So while the cable news guys continue to explore the intricacies of the Andrea Yates case and the sexual orientation of N’Sync members, there are a few minor issues going on elsewhere in the world, including the collapse of the WTO’s latest round of trade talks in Geneva. This didn’t come as an enormous surprise to the professional observers. In fact, delegates from one nation (India) declared the talks to be a failure before they even started. It was further unsurprising because it was a simple repetition of what’s happened at several recent rounds of trade talks, most notably at Cancun three years back.
Trade talks have changed. Back in “ye olden days” when delegates arrived on ox carts (about the early 1990’s or so) you could be sure that trade talks would succeed. That’s because the “Washington consensus” always won. The United States always got its way, with the aid of the European Union and Japan. Acting as a block, they managed to fight against subsidies and tariffs in poor countries, while maintaining similar subsidies and tariffs for themselves.
That system has broken apart these part few years for several reasons. One, the USA, the EU, and Japan are no longer cooperating with each other. Second, America’s foreign policy arrogance has created a remarkable level of hostility towards the USA. But the big reason is changing power dynamics. Countries like India, China, Thailand, and much of Latin America are more economically powerful. They won’t role over and obey the dictates of the first world anymore.
Anyone who believes in the principles free trade has to be happy that the power of the ‘axis of hypocrisy’ has been broken. Yet it’s unclear where we go from here. Clearly trying to make almost 100 countries agree is nearly impossible. There are too many conflicting interests, too many old hostilities. There’s no way that all those countries would agree to one set of rules and trust each other to abide by them.
The world can’t go on trying and failing at these talks. Trade is important. More important than gay rock stars, more important even than wars in the Middle East. The ability or inability to move stuff freely around the globe will determine the fate of the world.