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Can the Great Recession save Doha?

Christopher Swann is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) – At times the talks aimed at a new global trade agreement have seemed about as likely to succeed as the Arab-Israeli peace process. The Great Recession should have made the outlook still bleaker. History is replete with examples of governments shielding home-grown enterprise from foreign competitors during economic emergencies.

But this recession looks different. The mini-miracle of the downturn has been the relative paucity of protectionism. A hopeful case can be made that the headlong plunge of the global economy may actually strengthen the global trading system — exactly the opposite of the experience of the 1930s and 1980s. We may even be seeing fresh signs of life in the once moribund talks known as the Doha Round.

Trade itself has been among the biggest casualties of the downturn. In the first three months of this year, trade volumes fell by almost a third — the fastest contraction since the 1930s. Remarkably the global trading system, however, is holding up extremely well. Backsliding on global trade rules has been surprisingly rare.