July 28, 2004

Collective action  

It's depressing to read articles about the trade talks in Switzerland -- there's an almost fatalistic quality to all the reporting, the sense that basically nothing can rescue the Doha round. The focus, inasmuch as there is one, seems on relationship between the North and South, specifically on the issues of agricultual an textile subsidies, which have always been the most glaring inconsistency in what the rich nations call "free trade." But neither of the two blocs is really operating in any kind of unified way: the US and the EU have their own differences to work out, and the poor countries are bickering over which countries' negotiators are representing them at the Big Table.

The failure of the South to form a unified front is somewhat disappointing. In Cancun, talks had to be scrapped because these countries were able to come together behind the major issues that they all share. While those talks went down in flames, there was some hope that this coopration among developing nations would force the issues of agricultural and textile subsides. Now that coalition is looking more like an anomaly than a trial run. It's too bad: the developing world will have a hard time getting rich countries to treat them fairly if they can't muster any political clout, and they have no hope of doing so individually.


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