True, by billing Roberto Azevedo's speech today as a "vision speech," high expectations were set. Yet even against modest expectations, the result was dismal. I like Azevedo and I admire his statements about transparency and inclusiveness. I feel the sincerity of his commitment. But he has completely failed to sketch a broad vision for the WTO beyond Doha and give any real substantive case for its future relevance to the things that matter: climate change, agricultural security, human rights, the future of human security generally. By taking the route of putting so much on what is of so little concern to so few-the narrow issues of Bali and indeed Doha as it is conceived inside the WTO these days-he has diminshed rather than enhanced the credibility of the WTO as a negotiating forum.
Why not admit that what is on the table now is peripheral-certainly in comparison with what is being bargained regionally and bilaterally day by day? If the WTO has a future as a negotiating body it is in reconstructing a true agenda for tomorrow, one not based on the Singapore Declaration obsessions of a senescent and self-satisfied elite. We need a deal to scrap dirty fuel subsidies, which the IMF convincingly condemned as disastrous for climate, and which some brave countries are reducing unilaterally. We need a sectoral accord on Green Energy, an alternative to the destablishing trade remedy disputes that have been seen in recent months. And after the Bangladesh fadctory collapse we need efffective norms and instruments to make sure that global value chains are held responsible for basic standards of humanity. We need to deal with food security and the struggle for access to natural resources. These are the real trade issues, and hardly a word about them emerged from Azevedo's speech.
Maybe it is sheer romanticism but I still feel there is a place for multilateralism in trade. And the WTO AB is an important and vital institution, as close as we have to a real world trade court. But maybe the negotiating function needs to move, finally, to UNCTAD. Its new head should seize the window of opportunity provided by the WTO's self-absorbed self-destruction. And certainly after today's performance, the Obama Administration can rest confident that putting its trade negotiating focus elsewhere is fully justified-until (as I hope) a new multilateral forum emerges.