Sixty of the world’s leading business figures wrote an open letter in the FT to world leaders urging them to do more to secure a successful outcome of the Doha global trade negotiations.
We the undersigned are the chairmen and chief executive officers of some of the world’s leading corporations. We are not talking policy committee of the Confederation of British Industry here; we mean world business leaders, we’re worth a bob or two, you know.
We have supported the Doha round of trade negotiations since its inception and many of us have given advice on its substance to our governments – some of which appear to need all the advice they can get.
But at the initiative of the International Chamber of Commerce we are now taking time out from our frankly rather busy days to put our names to this letter to member governments of the World Trade Organisation. Our message, which we would like to convey in as restrained and understated manner as possible, is “FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE PULL YOUR FINGER OUT”. Naturally we have learned to address world leaders in only the most measured tones but, boy, are you guys screwing this up.
There are those who argue that we as global businesses should have done more rather earlier in the day to spur our governments into action. We realise that perhaps we have left it a little late to speak up. Indeed, if we worked for us we might well have sacked ourselves by now. But if you think getting a trade agreement is hard you should try agreeing the wording of a letter with 60 business titans. Anyway, we are on the case now and we are mad as hell.
The original date for completing these negotiations has passed and at the current pace of progress heaven knows how many of us will have been ousted by our institutional investors well before a deal is done.
So let us spell this out simply. Global trade liberalisation is a good thing. Really, really good. It helps drive up economic growth. Economic growth is a good thing too. Some of you European Union nations should try it some time. A successful Doha round will enable us to play a leading role in the eradication of poverty and raising of living standards. We don’t want to overplay this point. Clearly the real prize from a successful Doha round is that it will enable us to play a leading role in making lots more money, but poverty is a bad thing and we’d like to place on record that we are jolly opposed to it. If, as some happy by-product of our success, some of those who could not previously afford our products now can, well that’s win-win.
Next month WTO member states meet in Hong Kong for their ministerial conference. Don’t worry, someone in your office has already booked your tickets and hotel room. We know from experience that ministerial meetings left with too many decisions to take at the last minute usually break up – some time around 3am – with everyone dashing to the microphones to blame someone else for the collapse of the talks.
To that end we call on WTO governments to redouble their efforts to break out of the current impasse. Like you, we have no real idea what redoubling one’s efforts means – is it the same as quadrupling them? – but it sounds like it involves working harder, which we feel would be the right direction to go in at this stage.
In particular we believe the leaders of the G8 nations might want to give the issue a cursory glance some time before Christmas, once they have managed to overturn habeas corpus, crush rioting scum, managed to choose a new chancellor or find someone to sit on the Supreme Court. The need is for strong leadership and the time is now! (We apologise for our gratuitous use of the exclamation mark. We know it’s rather vulgar but we really want to emphasise the point that we are serious!!!) Things are going very badly wrong :-(
But this is by no means mission impossible and even if it were, the whole point of mission impossible is that the impossible mission is always successfully completed. (We should stress that at this stage we are not calling for the use of latex masks of Peter Mandelson or Rob Portman.)
Success requires compromise and a collective recognition of the price of failure. Business across the world urges governments to face up to their responsibilities and show the global trading system – which has done so much for our investors – is still safe in their hands. Otherwise don’t bother to knock come election time.
George Davies, newly reinstated as head of Marks and Spencer’s Per Una range, has likened his dispute with Stuart Rose, the M&S chief executive, to a lovers’ tiff.
Or to put it another way, it’s the age-old take of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl to come back after protesting his undying love and promising about £125m a year.
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