If you’re going to be the Secretary-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), you’d better be a marathoner.  Trying to get more than 150 nations — most all of whom don’t want to reform any of their own “market irregularities” — to agree on a new international trade liberalization agreement has proven to be extremely difficult over the past 8+ years, if not extremely bad for the health. Which is why Pascal Lamy, the current victim at the head of the WTO, likes to go out and actually finish marathons from time to time.  The invite to his Halloween morning briefing in Washington didn’t say it, but the principal purpose of his visit to the U.S. (he had been at Stanford earlier in the week) probably had more to do with his annual NYC marathon run on November 2 than any realistic near-term chance of completing the Round (as in the Doha Development Agenda, the official name of the current WTO negotiating round of talks). In the event, Lamy’s detailed presentation at the National Association of Manufacturers was a complex amalgram of long-shot hypotheticals.  Last summer’s WTO “mini”-ministerial meeting was a success in the sense that many more governments than before took pro-trade stances.  But how do you explain that China and India, the countries that everyone fears, were the leading protectionists blocking progress?  Are rich nations  willing to meaningfully scale back their agricultural programs?  And what about the U.S. Presidential campaign? I once worked the finish line of the New York City Marathon, the flood of finishers with their arms raised looking like a huge flock of birds.  Lamy’s running accomplishments are to be respected, but I don’t envy his having to take off back to Geneva.

 


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