The trade talks at the Doha Round of the World Trade Organisation have stuttered along since 2001 with seemingly little prospect for conclusion. Nevertheless, the conviction\ud remains that the round should be finished lest significant economic gains be passed over and the long run trading interests of developing countries damaged. In this reading, it is insufficient political will among world leaders that has prevented poor countries from moving towards a fair and free trading environment. By bringing to light the manifest uncertainties that hang over such attempts to instil free market principles on the agricultural economy however, this paper sounds three sceptical notes on the idea that progressive liberalisation through the WTO can deliver a development boon. First, choosing the right path to\ud liberalisation is confounded by the fact that negotiators are unsure of the value of certain concessions and so may deviate down a ‘sub-optimal’ route. Second, the belief that the ‘uneven playing field’ will be ultimately levelled as trade-distorting policies are gradually eroded ignores the persistent renewal of government involvement in agriculture as policy instruments evolve over time. Third, to the extent that liberalisation does occur, its benefits\ud are assumed rather than given. By looking at Brazil, a country expected to be one of the prime beneficiaries of a successful roll-back in agricultural protectionism, it is shown how trade expansion has led to an unequal form of development that has stymied economic opportunities for the poor. Because of these three factors, it is concluded that development through liberalisation remains more an act of ideological faith than a question of willpower.\ud As such, the purpose of the multilateral trading system must be reappraised
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