The World Trade Organization’s goal in Hong Kong is to conclude
the current Doha Development Round of negotiations with a consensus
declaration that would expand trade rules in three areas:
industrial tariffs, agriculture, and trade in services. Here’s a
summary of the issues.
The nonagricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations aim to reduce
tariffs on everything from computer parts to clothing to heavy
machinery, plus natural resources like fish, forest products, and
minerals. These talks are the most likely to achieve at least a
partial agreement by the Hong Kong meeting.
Developing countries have long wanted to put an end to the lavish
support systems that prop up inefficient agriculture giants and to
eliminate tariffs on imports in the United States and Europe.
Subsidies also hurt small farmers in countries large and small
because most of the money goes to industrial farms owned by
behemoths like Cargill and ConAgra. These corporations dump
below-cost commodities on world markets, which undercuts small
local farmers in poor countries and drives them out of their own
markets. This is the most contentious area of the negotiations and
was the main reason the Canc?n ministerial collapsed in 2003.
Trade in services:
The United States and the European Union have been pushing for
years to secure the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).
Services include intangible things such as banking and insurance,
transportation, telecommunications, and movement of employees, as
well as public services like energy and water. The biggest sticking
point is immigration. India, which is pumping out engineers and
MBAs, has said that an agreement facilitating work visas is its
highest priority. This would allow it to export more high-tech
workers to the U.S. and other wealthy countries, and could force
the U.S. to scrap its economic means test, which requires employers
to demonstrate that a foreign worker will not displace a U.S.
citizen who could do the same job.
A wild-card issue:
The U.S. has proposed privatization of energy services — oil, gas,
nuclear, hydro, wind — as an area for liberalization. This is a
dangerous move, according to Deborah James of Global Exchange. ‘The
vast majority of the world’s energy resources are owned by
governments,’ she says. ‘Forcing countries to privatize these
resources has serious national security implications.’ James
speculates that the U.S. proposal may even foreshadow an attempt to
break the OPEC cartel. The U.S. has already convinced Saudi Arabia
to open up parts of its state oil company as a condition of joining
the WTO. And European negotiators have offered WTO membership as a
carrot to Iran, OPEC’s second-largest producer, in negotiations
over its nuclear program.