If you ask, "What's the WTO's Doha Round?" you won't be alone.
Way back in 2001, following 9/11, the World Trade Organization launched the Doha Development Agenda to provide expanded economic opportunities for people in developing countries in part to counter some of the extremism that led to the 9/11 attacks.
Unfortunately, it hasn't worked.
It's hard enough to get all the WTO members to agree on anything. Compounding that problem is the WTO's requirement that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. WTO rules don't allow willing countries to put agreed-to issues into effect, enabling small groups to prevent progress.
Further compounding the problem is the fact that some countries who were viewed as "developing" back in 2001, are anything but that today. Think India and China, both of which are now major economic powers.
The next WTO meeting of ministers for the Doha Round will be held in December in Bali. Already, we are seeing the same pre-meeting signs. Some folks are optimistic that this time will be the one. Others are wringing their hands saying, "We have to find a way forward." And this week the trade minister for India said if it doesn't get what it wants in the Doha Round, the WTO's Trade Facilitation Agreement negotiations may be in jeopardy.
Is it time to just pull the plug and move on?
Ending the Doha Round would be a public relations defeat for the WTO. But after twelve years of banging our heads against the wall, it's time to stop.
Currently, the WTO has two objectives: (1) complete agreements among its members to expand and facilitate trade among nations, and (2) resolve trade-related disputes among nations and enforce its global rules.
The WTO has a good record on resolving disputes, but it hasn't done well with the first objective.
It has become clear that the WTO isn't needed when it comes to expanding trading opportunities. Willing countries are completing agreements among themselves. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will unite a dozen countries touching the Pacific Ocean into a powerful trading bloc. Many other countries are negotiating bilateral agreements to boost sales.
With new leadership at the WTO, it's time to reassess the basic mission.
If WTO is to remain a place for negotiating global trade-enhancing agreements, it must change its requirements for completing them so single countries or small groups cannot halt progress for all.
Otherwise, the WTO will become even less relevant for trade.