Dr. Supachai says US must lead in Doha talks
WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington on 26 February 2004, warned that the alternative to the Doha Round is "a fragmented world, with greater conflict and uncertainty". He stressed that US leadership is "indispensable" to the world trading system and the success of the negotiations.
The following is the full text of the speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I can sum up my message today in three sentences: The United States, more than any single country, created the world trading system. The US has never had more riding on the strength of that system. And US leadership — especially in the current Doha trade talks — is indispensable to the system's success. It is true that as the WTO's importance to the world economy increases, so too does the challenge of making it work: there are more countries, more issues, trade is in the spot light as never before. But the fiction that there is an alternative to the WTO — or to US leadership — is both naive and dangerous. Naive because it fails to recognize that multilateralism has become more — not less — important to advancing US interests. Dangerous because it risks undermining the very objectives the US seeks — freer trade, stronger rules, a more open and secure world economy.
The Doha Round is a crucial test. The core issues — services, agriculture, and industrial tariffs — are obviously directly relevant to the US. America is highly competitive in services — the fastest growing sector of the world economy, and where the scope for liberalization is greatest. In agriculture too the US is competitive across many commodities — but sky-high global barriers and subsidies impede and distort agricultural trade. Industrial tariffs also offer scope for further liberalization — especially in certain markets and sectors. But what is at stake in these talks is more than the economic benefits that would flow from a successful deal. The real issue is the relevance of the multilateral trading system. Its expanded rules, broader membership, and binding dispute mechanism means that the new WTO — created less than ten years ago — is pivotal to international economic relations. But this means that the costs of failure are also higher — with ramifications that can be felt more widely. Advancing the Doha agenda would confirm the WTO as the focal point for global trade negotiations, and as the key forum for international economic cooperation. The credibility of the institution would be greatly enhanced. But if the Doha negotiations stumble, doubts may grow, not just about the WTO's effectiveness, but about the future of multilateralism in trade.