Doha Development Round Update: Round ‘Paralysed’, Conclusion Unlikely in 2011
The embattled Doha Development Round suffered another setback in talks in late July, as WTO members acknowledged that the Doha mini-package that they have been working towards since late May 2011 is no longer looking plausible for the Eighth Ministerial Conference, to be held in Geneva on 15-17 December 2011.
WTO members expressed their disappointment with the Doha Round’s current state, with some noting that the ten-year talks largely resembled a “soap opera.” Members have been unable to reach consensus on what to include in the mini-deal proposed in late May, agreeing only that the needs of least-developed countries (LDCs) must be at the forefront of any deliverables that come out of the December meeting.
Disagreements over which non-LDC issues, if any, should be included in an abridged Doha deal (i.e. an LDC-plus package) is causing discord among members. However, in a 27 July meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC), the body tasked with the Doha Development Agenda, there was also dissent among members as to which LDC-specific issues may be pushed forward.
At the TNC meeting, WTO Director General Lamy reported back on the last few weeks of consultations, which included a Green Room meeting and meetings with coordinators of various country groupings and negotiating groups. Lamy openly expressed his frustration at the current state of the talks:
“What we are seeing today is the paralysis in the negotiating function of the WTO, whether it is on market access or on the rule-making. What we are facing is the inability of the WTO to adapt and adjust to emerging global trade priorities.” He added that members should “fully engage in an ‘adult conversation’ over ‘what next.’”
Lamy outlined a two-track plan for moving forward between now and the Ministerial:
• One track would involve non-Doha items, about which Ambassador Agah of Nigeria, the Chairman of the General Council, has been consulting with members on, and discussed at the 27 July General Council meeting (see below for further details).
• A second track involves the plan for resolving the Doha situation after the Ministerial.
Lamy also urged that talks continue in parallel to see if members can come up with some Doha LDC deliverables for the December gathering.
At the TNC meeting, the US was one of the countries that pushed against continuing the pursuit of a smaller LDC-only package for the December ministerial. US Ambassador Punke stated that “continuing our efforts for an Early Harvest without prospect of success comes at a significant cost, crowding out essential work on preparations for the Ministerial.”
In contrast, the EU argued for the need to advance LDC issues in some capacity at the Ministerial, insisting that issues such as improved rules of origin, an LDC services waiver, and duty-free, quota-free (DFQF) market access for LDCs “ought to be doable without payment for anyone, as long as all main players make a contribution.”
Two recent volumes from the www.VoxEU.org website provide a good discussion of the current Doha stalemate (see Next Steps: Getting Past the Doha Crisis and Why World Leaders Must Resist the False Promise of a Doha Delay).
Preparations for December Ministerial
The Chairman of the General Council Ambassador Agah, on 27 July 2011 said that delegations would need “to see what is realistically achievable in a pragmatic and realistic spirit” in the lead up to the December Ministerial. He stressed that the overall objective is “to produce a successful Ministerial Conference; one which, despite the current problems in the Round, will help to reinforce the value of the WTO system for all its members”.
Amb. Agah said in his consultations, most delegations stressed that the Ministerial should send out the message that “the WTO is not synonymous with the Doha Round: the WTO is more than the Round”. However, he said there was a general sense that the Conference “could not, and should not, avoid addressing the Doha Round”.
The General Council Chair encouraged that the non-Doha items to be discussed be structured around two themes:
• WTO work from now through the end of 2011, and
• WTO work post-2011, possibly up to the ninth ministerial in 2013.
In the case of the former, some of the ideas that had resulted from consultations included a development focus, such as the Aid for Trade initiative and issues relating to LDCs and small and vulnerable economies (SVEs), along with improving the Trade Policy Review mechanism and the monitoring mechanisms that evaluate protectionism surges in relation to the global economic crisis. Another item that came up in discussions, which the EU supported at the meeting, was a possible transparency mechanism for regional trade agreements.
With regards to WTO work post-2011, Agah noted that various “21st century issues” were being suggested for inclusion, such as climate change, food security, and currency exchange rates.
At the meeting, Bangladesh emphasised the importance of the food security issue for net food importing developing countries; this issue has become more prominent given that these countries especially feel the effects of rising food price, along with the impacts of export restrictions in other countries.
Pascal Lamy Pushes for LDC-Plus Package for December Ministerial Meeting
At an informal meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Negotiations Committee on 22 June 2011, Director-General Pascal Lamy suggested focusing a December 2011 Ministerial package on trade benefits for the poorest countries. He also highlighted “trade facilitation, export competition, S&D Monitoring Mechanism, a step forward on fisheries subsidies and a step forward on environmental goods and services” as indicative issues which should be explored as part of a package. He said this would mean “loads of work and challenges ahead and no guarantee of success, but, in my view it is worth trying — and it is our duty to do so”.
To view the Director-General’s full speech, please click on this link.
On 21 April 2011, Chair of the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC), Pascal Lamy, circulated a set of documents produced by Chairs of various negotiating groups, representing the product of work in the Doha Development Round over the last ten years. He said, “For the first time since 2001 Members will have the opportunity to consider the entire Doha package, including all market access areas as well as the entirety of the regulatory agenda”. The following are the key documents of relevance to the Forum Island Countries, as referred to in the 2011 FTOM/FTMM paper for Session 1 (Attachment 1) regarding the DDA update:
- Latest Report of the Chairman of the Committee of Trade and Environment, Special Session.
- Latest Report of the Chairman of the Committee of Trade and Development, Special Session.
- Report of the Chairman (TN/MA/W/103/Rev.3/Add.1) representing state of play in NTB and non-NTB areas of the NAMA negotiations.
- Documents relating to the Transparency Mechanism and Systemic issues of RTAs (TN/RL/W/252 and TN/RL/W/253 respectively).
- Detailed Report by Chairman on Negotiations on Trade in Services, WTO Document TN/S/36, 21 April 2011.
All documents from the negotiating Chairs are available on the WTO website here.