If the Politicians Say It, It Must Be True

That's the word from the Washington Post when it comes to the WTO negotiations. Today's article on the prospects for the Doha round asserts that "unlike previous negotiations with similar aims, this set of talks has an ambitious twist: The main goal is to change rules that have put poor countries at a disadvantage in the global marketplace." Yes, and we know that because...

Look, the people structuring the Doha round are politicians. It should not be news that politicians are not always entirely truthful in their public comments. In other words, just because they say that the purpose of the Doha round is to help developing countries, this does not mean that the real purpose of the round is to help developing countries.

The evidence actually shows that the Doha round is likely to do very little for developing countries and will actually hurt some who are net importers of agricultural products. (The removal of rich country subsidies causes agricultural prices to rise, which means that these countries will have to pay more for their imports.) Based on projections of gains, a reasonable person might be led to believe that the main purpose of the Doha round is to assist politically connected grain traders like Archers Daniel Midland.

It would not be hard to redesign global trade rules in ways that actually did offer substantial benefits to developing countries. For example, not requiring them honor rich country patents and copyrights would be a huge boon to developing countries. But such obvious winners for the world's poor are not on the Doha agenda.

In any case, the simple point here is that reporters should be clear on distinguishing between what politicians say, and what is true. Politicians say that the main purpose of the Doha round is to help the world's poor. The reporter who wrote this article does not know what the main purpose of the round actually is. Therefore, the article should simply report the claims of the politicians, and identify them as claims, not truth.

--Dean Baker

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