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Collapse of the Doha Round

- July 30, 2008

p. Since the Doha round of trade talks has been on life support for some time, it’s no huge surprise that the talks have collapsed with plenty of recriminations to go around. Much fuss is being made over one more sign that the United States has less influence than it did ten years ago, and that China has chosen to flex its muscles internationally in yet another venue.

p. What hasn’t received attention is a broader phenomenon of the Bush years: the rollback of Bill Clinton’s efforts to make economics co-equal with traditional national security in the conduct of American foreign policy. As Charlene Barshefsky, Clinton’s second term US Trade Representative argued to me and Derek Chollet for our book, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11, “Clinton’s contribution was to elevate trade as a strategic component, not a strategic stepchild of a vibrant international policy.” And it was more than just trade – Clinton’s creation of the National Economic Council and his elevation of the Treasury Department in general foreign policy decisionmaking stemmed from the belief that the State Department, NSC and Department of Defense could not on their own ensure the realization of American interests in a globalizing world. Bush’s first two Treasury Secretaries were almost non-existent in foreign policymaking, and the episodic attention to Doha over the years was yet one more price paid for the dominance of Iraq in this administration.

p. Since it’s a process issue, the role of the US Treasury Secretary and USTR in the conduct of foreign policy decisionmaking won’t get much – if any – attention during the campaign. But the next president should, as Barshefsky puts it, view trade (and economics more generally) as a strategic component of American foreign policy. That, of course, will also bring politics front and center, but that will be the subject of another post.