Trade Deals Take Global Commerce Back to the Future


Edward Alden argues in an article for World Politics Review that the United States and European Union are reasserting their control over global trade rules after two decades of stalemate with developing countries.

After the negotiations that led to the creation of the WTO in 1995, developing country officials were determined to never again allow the U.S. and EU dictate the final terms of a global trade agreement. For the past two decades, until this month’s modest agreement in Bali, they have made good on that threat. But through ambitious regional deals, the U.S. and EU are reasserting control over global trade rules.

“Never again. That was the sentiment I remember hearing over and over from developing country officials following the tumultuous completion of the Uruguay Round negotiations in 1993 that led to the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) two years later. Once again, most of them believed, the United States and the European Union had dictated the final terms of a global trade agreement and forced it down the throats of the rest of the world. These countries were determined to have far more say in the shape of any future deals.

For the past two decades, until this month’s modest agreement in Bali to adopt new “trade facilitation” measures, the developing countries have made good on that threat. They have insisted that any new global trade agreement, such as that pursued unsuccessfully over the past decade through the Doha Round, pay special attention to their needs and priorities in areas like agriculture, manufacturing and intellectual property rules. Their united opposition has made it impossible to conclude another big global trade round on terms acceptable to the U.S. and EU.”

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