Beyond the World news headlines
Do you Doha? Cutting through the jargon at the WTO
Where is green beige, 54 the same as 60, and the potato a tropical vegetable? Welcome to the Through the Looking Glass world of the World Trade Organisation.
Although the issues being discussed in Geneva this week could ultimately affect everyone on the planet in terms of their effect on the economy, prices and employment, understanding the jargon of the ‘Doha round’ is reserved for a privileged few who can decipher its twisted language and countless acronyms.
For those like me who are new to covering the WTO, my advice is don’t look for the ‘Green Room’ where ministers and ambassadors are negotiating the trade liberalisation – it’s actually beige. (You’re not allowed in anyway, so steel yourself for hours pacing the hallway downstairs).
Next: know your NAMA from your TRIPS. Almost every aspect of trade is referred to by its acronym. Why say ‘industrial goods’ when you could be talking about NAMA (Non-Agricultural Market Access)? Make sure you know the difference between an LDC (least developed country) and an SVE (small and vulnerable economy), and remember that an MFN (most favoured nation) is nothing of the sort (under WTO rules, all trading partners have to be treated equally. Having MFN status means you are the same as all the others).
Confused? I can highly recommend the European Commission’s online trade glossary.
As for potatoes, they have been considered for inclusion in a list of ‘tropical products’, alongside papaya and coffee, which could be due for a boost from extra tariff cuts. (Potatoes, after all, originated in tropical areas of the Americas, so it’s only logical …)
And when it comes to the numbers, bring a calculator and a sense of humour. When asked whether the European Union was offering to cut its import tariffs by an average of 54 percent, as previously stated, or 60 percent as proposed by European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, French Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Idrac kept a straight face and replied: “54 and 60, c’est la meme chose” (it’s the same thing).