The WTO meeting at Cancún, Mexico this September represents a critical stage in the Doha Development Round of world trade talks. Free trade has been under sustained attack from a wide spectrum of pressure groups since the Seattle debacle in 2000. This CEPS Task Force Report articulates a progressive, business-oriented agenda on trade. It suggests that there is a ‘hierarchy of responsibility’ among negotiating countries. Previous trade rounds have achieved substantial industrial tariff liberalisation, but insufficient progress has been made in reform of agricultural protection and in assisting the market-access ambitions of the poorest nations. Agriculture is a topic of vital strategic and symbolic importance, especially for developing countries (LDCs). However, even for LDCs, trade will soon contain more goods and services – where the greater source of value added and growth potential lies.
Hence, the world’s largest countries must now take the significant steps to free their agricultural markets and to dismantle gross distortions to world food and agricultural commodity markets. Equally, all but the very poorest developing countries should now embrace the cause of unilateral trade reform themselves, rather than adopt adversarial positions in their trade relations with the world’s big four (or Quad) trade groups (US/EU/Japan/Canada). The prize for making such concessions will be significantly enhanced world growth prospects from increased trade, especially in goods and services, especially among the many rapidly developing countries.