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2008年12月19日 (金)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 17(IHT/Asahi: December 18,2008)

EDITORIAL: Stalled trade talks


Faced with a crisis of an unprecedented magnitude, the global economy today is like a boat being tossed around in the rapids with a big waterfall ahead. The boat will surely tumble over the waterfall unless all hands aboard work the oars in unison with all their might.


But from the outset, the "oarsmen" in our real world have proved incapable of such a coordinated effort.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) decided last week to cancel a ministerial meeting slated for this month to forge a "framework agreement" in the Doha Round of negotiations before the end of this year. The reason for the cancellation is that the principal members of the WTO could not reconcile their differences.


The meeting would have represented the first test for the world's leading nations to unite in the face of the current financial crisis and economic downturn. Their failure to unite at this critical juncture is a terrible blow to the world, and the consequences far exceed a mere delay in securing the hoped-for agreement.


During the G-20 financial summit in November, world leaders were insistent that the framework agreement be hammered out before the end of 2008, aware that a global recession was becoming a real possibility.


Their aim was to curb protectionism to avert a shrinkage in global trade.


But their inability to realize their objective raises questions about their determination itself. In fact, their inaction effectively tells the world how bad things are for the global economy.


There would be little surprise, then, if some countries decide to protect their own economies by putting up trade barriers or joining forces with like-minded countries to create an exclusive economic bloc.


In fact, contrary to the G-20 agreement to "refrain from putting up new trade barriers for one year," Russia has already decided to raise its tariff on car imports from January.


The main cause of the cancellation of the December ministerial meeting stems from disagreements on farm trade between the United States and emerging economic powers, such as China and India.


The United States is in favor of setting stringent conditions for allowing import restrictions in the event of an import surge, whereas China and India want the conditions to be much more relaxed. The emerging economies are also resisting the demands of their advanced counterparts for substantial tariff cuts for automobiles and industrial products including electronics.


The administration of George W. Bush will soon be gone, but the United States is still very much responsible for ending the current economic chaos triggered by the financial meltdown of its own making.


At the same time, however, we must remind China and India that they, too, bear much heavier responsibilities today because of their vastly increased influence on the global economy. Trade liberalization can be achieved only when each country has accepted sacrifices by its own industries. This means that the longer the Doha Round negotiations are kept on hold, the deeper the world will sink into recession and hurt each nation's industries. This, in turn, will render domestic adjustments even harder to implement.



Should the international community abandon its commitment to maintaining free trade, global trade will inevitably shrink, and this will only accelerate and aggravate the economic crisis. We must not forget the history of trade protectionism leading up to World War II.


This year will end soon, but WTO nations must remain committed to forging their framework agreement. As soon as the Barack Obama administration is sworn in on Jan. 20, we hope the United States will call for the final round of negotiations.



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