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WTO's developmental dilemma

Norway is making a heroic effort to save the World Trade Organization (WTO). But to what extent is the WTO worthy of a rescue operation?

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

In connection with the WTO ministerial meeting in December, Norway once again marked itself as an eager supporter to save the organization from the void of irrelevance. Since the optimism of the 1990, the eagerness to liberalize world markets has faced many forms of resistance, and this puts the WTO at risk. I'm not just thinking about Brexit and Trump – African leaders have long criticized the WTO for failing to deliver results to the best of their citizens.

"Trade, not aid. Investments, not pity »have been the main message from African leaders for the last few decades. Nevertheless, the same leaders have been clear that they need political tools to make investments into jobs. They want to use an active business policy to shape their "comparative advantages". They also need meaningful market access to the Western market. It was these development considerations that formed the heading "Doha Development Agenda" for the WTO's 2001 Action Plan.

African countries are struggling to put an end to market distorting forms of agricultural support.

What has happened since the Doha Round? Gradually, negotiations have stagnated in the meeting between developing countries with increasing power behind the demands and rich countries unfamiliar with losing control. In December 2015, the mandate was essentially dead, just months after the Doha Round was baked into the UN's global sustainability goals.

Harmful subsidies. What got African countries out of the round? Nice little. For example, it took ten years from temporary to final decision to ban export subsidies for agricultural products, which Jarlsberg, among others, has benefited from. These are the kind of subsidies that are so developmentally harmful that even the Center Party has had in its program that they should be removed. And there are loopholes for Americans.

African countries are struggling to put an end to market-distorting forms of agricultural support in rich countries, and four tiny African countries are fighting for US cotton subsidies. The Africans put on the table wishes to be able to protect industry in the start-up phase, which is rejected sharply from rich countries.

African countries need meaningful market access to the Western market.

It is not only African countries that are dissatisfied. The United States has shown reluctance to negotiate development issues for a long time, and sabotaged both progress on text and in procedural matters. Therefore, over time, the country has turned its attention to agreements with smaller groups of countries, where Americans face less resistance. Then both African countries and Norway are often sitting in the hallway. That is why it has become so important for both Norway and the African group to strengthen the WTO's attractiveness. That is what the Buenos Aires ministerial meeting was really about.

Toothache USA. The problem is that Americans must be lured into the negotiating table with a breakthrough in all their affairs. What remains then? In any case, not a trade policy that meets African needs, but rather an organization that will deliver even less on development in the time to come. If the WTO is to be worthy of a rescue operation, one must stop thinking of comprehensive American impact in trade policy as a natural law.

Johan N. Hermstad is General Manager of the Joint Council for Africa.

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