For some of us, 1999 doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. We were two years into the Asian financial crisis, and commodity prices were in the dumps. We were watching the release of the Matrix, living la vida loca while worrying whether modernity was about to collapse with Y2K. Near the end of the year, we saw riot police and protesters clash at the “battle in Seattle”. Numerous NGOs representing environmentalists, sustainable development, labor, and anti-globalization activists took to the street to protest the beginning of the current round of WTO trade talks, and their perceived exclusionary nature. Up until then, it felt like the march to global free trade was inevitable, but protesters raised concerns particularly about the non-tariff components of trade deals, such as intellectual property rights or investment protections as well as governance and inequality. These protests foreshadowed the north-south divide that has come to define the current round of trade negotiations. Two years later, the talks restarted in Doha, and have been limping along ever since. While much has been decided (such as eliminating export subsidies, reducing caps on tariffs and domestic support), a number of sticking points have kept the global trading system from getting a new deal.
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