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WTO Doha Round

WTO Doha Round

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Published by Abhinab Ghosh

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Published by: Abhinab Ghosh on Oct 17, 2012
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WTO Doha Round Background: WTO Ministerial meet in Seattle in 1999 had broken up in failure. Mainreason was the perception of developing countries(DCs) that through participation in WTOthey had undertaken difficult and costly undertakings (tariff bindings, tariff reductions, patent protection etc.), but the benefits they received in return from commitments made bydeveloped countries were meagre-whether agricultural exports, tariffs or implementation of the textile and garment quotas under ATC. DCs also objected to efforts by US and EU toextend scope of WTO rules to labour and environment at Seattle conference.Another grievance of DCs: that they had no part in the decision-making process in WTOthat was dominated by powerful developed countries.On the side of developed countries, there were also differences between US and principalagricultural exporting countries on the one hand and EU on the other as the former wantedelimination of export subsidies and the latter wanted to retain them. Same time, both USand EU wanted to retain their huge domestic farm subsidies. Japan and Korea, for their partwished to continue their protection to rice. With all these differences and dissonances within the conference and demonstrationsoutside, Seattle conference ended in failure. Lead-up to Doha Conference:Against this background, leading developed countries and the WTO secretariat made activeefforts to ensure success for the next WTO ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar in 2001.The 9/11 event provided another impetus to the collective global cooperative effort, withUS taking special pains. Important elements in the WTO approach to the Doha conference included:>rebuilding confidence in the WTO system>ensuring successful launch of crucial negotiations on agriculture and services, as provided by the Uruguay Round>addressing the difficulties of DCs in implementing their Uruguay Round commitments>Ensuring an inclusive and participatory process. Doha Conference: The crowning achievement at Doha was the decision to launch a new Round of multilateralnegotiations. By affirming their commitment to negotiate further reductions in trade barriers and thereby furthering the process of global integration "the conference spokeclearly and loudly" against anti-globalisers. The Round was also called "Development Round" to emphasise its concern for issues of importance to DCs. The Doha conference adopted a 3-year work programme with development as its(professed) core in the following areas:
 Agriculture: Carrying forward the outcome of the negotiations on liberalising global tradein agriculture since 2000, the conference reached a compromise on the divisive issuesamong the EU/US/DCs and other groups. The ministers committed themselves tonegotiations aimed at substantial improvements in market access (meaning reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers). Specifically they called for reduction, (andeventually phasing out) of all forms of export subsidies and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic subsidies. By opening markets in this way, the negotiations envisaged by the Doha Round promisedsubstantial trade benefits to all members, particularly DCs. According to OECD estimates,rich countries pay out nearly $1 billion a day to their farmers in subsidies, therebydistorting global farm trade, largely to the detriment of DCs. Services: In trade in services, liberalisation envisaged by the Doha Round will promote the entry of foreign services in as many domestic sectors as governments choose and make it easier toemploy foreign workers on temporary contracts.-special priority would be given to LDCsand sufficient flexibility to DCs. (According to the World Bank such liberalisationwith reduction of protection by one-third could mean gains of 1-6%of GDP to India and4.2% of GDP to Thailand.) Industrial goods: The negotiating mandate under the Doha Round focuses on reducing or eliminating tariff  peaks and escalation, in particular on products of export interest to DCs. as well as on tariff  barriers. The mandate provides additionally for taking into account the special needs andinterests of developing and least-developed countries. Trade and environment: The ministers agreed to negotiations on the relationship between existing between WTOrules and specific trade obligations set out in multilateral environmental agreements.This provision was put in the Doha accord to accommodate the EU's concerns on environmentalaspect of global trade. Competition policy: On competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation, theMinisters agreed that negotiations would take place for a multilateral framework  On the issue of a multilateral framework for foreign investment, the ministers agreed tohave negotiations after a decision on modalities for such negotiations are arrived at on the basis of "explicit consensus" after the fifth session of the ministerial conference. This was acompromise in the face of objection to such negotiations mainly by India.Para 3 : 
(For negotiations on competition policy, transparency in government procurement and tradefacilitation also, "explicit consensus" on modalities was required to commence them after the5th WTO session in 2003.This was again a concession to DCs like India). 
 On TRIPs, Doha Conference agreed to negotiate the establishment of a multilateral systemof notification and registration of geographical indications for wines and spirits as well as theextension of protection of geographical indications to other products (eg Basmati rice,Darjeeling tea etc).. The extension was particularly relevant for India in view of the profusion of important geographical indications relating to Indian export products.(but thesewould need to be negotiated at length).A more important part of the provision on TRIPs was on the issue of public health, whichwent a long way to addressing the concerns of DCs. First, it recognizes the gravity of publichealth problems resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics in poor countries. Second, it stressed the need for wider national and international actions to addressthese problems and for TRIPs to be part of these actions. Third, while recognizing that IP protection is important for the development of new medicines, the ministers agreed thatTRIPs Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures (likecompulsory licensing) to protect public health. For this purpose, the Declaration recognizedexplicitly certain flexibilities in the interpretation of TRIPs commitments, irrespective of theinterests of multinational pharma companies. 
Special attention to DCs
The Doha declaration sought to “place the needs and interests” of DCs at the heart of theDoha work programme and took note of the important role of enhanced market access, balanced rules and well-targeted, sustainably financed technical assistance and capacity building programmes for DCs, particularly LDCs.The agreed agenda for trade negotiations that resulted from the Doha conference wascomprehensive and complex. The conference was particularly sensitive to the needs of DCs,and even more of LDCs and have made several firm commitments to assist them. There isgreat potential for the Doha round to conclude with an agreement that considerablyliberalizes the world trading system and meaningfully integrating the DCs and LDCs into it, but it remains to be seen whether that potential will actually be realized.
Cancun Conference 2003
The fifth conference of WTO that was to review the course of negotiations among nations inthe Doha Round and to take the process forward towards a final international agreement wasa failure. It ended without any positive outcome for the following reasons :1. US and EU were unwilling to reduce significantly their domestic subsidies in agriculture,contrary to their undertaking at Doha. In fact, they maintained more or less their existinghigh levels of subsidies through legislative measures in 2002 and 2003.

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