WTO's Doha Round: A shattered dream for LDCs?

Md Moniruzzaman | Published: February 11, 2019 21:24:18 | Updated: February 15, 2019 22:12:17

In November 2001, the Doha Development Round (widely known as Doha Development Agenda) was commenced at the 4th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference held in the beautiful capital city of Qatar.  The Ministerial Conference is the topmost decision-making body of the WTO, which usually meets every two years and can take decisions on all matters under any of the multilateral trade agreements. Since Doha, so far seven ministerial conferences have been held at Cancun, Mexico (2003), Hong Kong (2005), Geneva (2009), Geneva (2011), Bali (2015), Nairobi (2015) and Buenos Aires (2017). The next is scheduled for June 2020 at Astana, Kazakhstan. 

Back in Doha in 2001, WTO members had decided to launch a new round of negotiations, and pursuant to that decision, adopted the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) and its accompanying work programme. New negotiating groups were formed which took the issues of market access for non-agricultural products, WTO rules (anti-dumping, subsidies, regional trade agreements) and trade facilitation. In existing bodies, negotiations took the issues on Agriculture: in special sessions of the Agriculture Committee; Services: in special sessions of the Services Council and Geographical indications: in special sessions of the Council for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The TRIPS agreement is an international legal agreement that was signed between all the member nations of the WTO. Other TRIPS issues are addressed in regular TRIPS Council meetings, Dispute Settlement Understanding: in special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body; Environment: in special sessions of the Trade and Environment Committee and Negotiations on outstanding implementation issues: in relevant bodies, according to paragraph 12 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration.

Considerable emphasis is placed on special and differential treatment (S&DT) for developing countries. The principle of S&DT is an integral part of the WTO Agreements. All negotiations and other aspects of the DDA work programme are required to fully incorporate this principle. According to the 'Doha Declaration' (paragraph 44- WT/MIN(01)/DEC/1) and the 'Decision on Implementation-Related Issues and Concerns' (WT/MIN(01)/17), all S&DT provisions are to be reviewed to make them more precise, effective and operational. These reviews are carried out in special sessions of the Trade and Development Committee (CTD). The negotiations on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) are mandated by the Doha Development Agenda. Several mandates were set out in the Doha Declaration to achieve this objective.  They include:

  •  examine the issue related to trade and technology transfer so as to increase flows of technology to developing countries (paragraph 37);
  • n to ensure that WTO TA and capacity-building programmes are designed to assist developing countries, LDCs and low-income countries in transition to adjust to WTO rules (paragraphs 38 to 41);
  • n commit to the objective of duty-free, quota-free market access for products originating from LDCs and to consider additional measures for progressive improvements in market access for LDCs (paragraphs 42 and 43); and,
  • n to review all special and differential treatment provisions which give developing countries special rights so as to strengthen them and make them more precise (paragraph 44).

IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR LDCS: As an LDC, Bangladesh has been exempted from making all sorts of reduction commitments (such as reduction of tariffs, domestic supports, etc). Bangladesh has also no obligation to open up any mode or sectors relating to trade in services in this round. As a result, Bangladesh has no defensive interest in this round of negotiations. However, Bangladesh has many offensive interests to achieve from this development round. The following issues are important for LDCs including Bangladesh: Duty-free & quota-free (DFQF) market access, Preference erosion and Services negotiations.

The priorities of LDCs like Bangladesh are at the centre of discussion of Doha Round. The major issues of DDA include trade facilitation, services, rules of origin and dispute settlement.   The objective of DDA is to lower trade barriers around the world and thus facilitate increased global trade, particularly the share of trade of LDCs. Market access and special and differential treatment for the developing countries were also discussed as a major concern.

Doha Development Agenda is important in the sense that if successful, it would improve the economic vitality of developing countries and reduced government spending on subsidies in developed countries. Unfortunately, agribusiness lobbies in the United States and the European Union (EU) put political pressure on their legislatures. That protracted the Doha round of negotiations. As a result, bilateral agreements have increased.

The 2001 ministerial declaration established an official deadline for concluding negotiations for the Doha round by January 01, 2005. However, the Doha Round is yet to be concluded though subsequent ministerial meetings were held. The failure of Doha talks would also mean that future multilateral trade agreements are also probably doomed to fail for the same reason as Doha. The EU and US agricultural industries would not take the risk of allowing low-cost foreign food imports to take any of their domestic market shares.

The main reason the Doha talks have floundered is that the United States and EU are not willing to give up their agricultural subsidies. But other sticking points must be resolved if the talks are to resume and succeed. First, China, India, and Brazil need to be more supportive of the talks. They must also be willing to take on the leadership role. Second, the United States, Japan, and China must realise their "currency wars" are exporting inflation to other countries, such as Brazil and India. They must accept the responsibility and not treat their monetary policies as simply domestic issues. Third, Doha must dangle the carrot of more liberal service export regulations. That would entice the United States and other developed countries. Otherwise, they will move ahead on their own with the Trade in Services Agreement negotiations. Adoption of the Bali Ministerial Declaration on December 07, 2013 for the first time successfully addressed bureaucratic barriers to commerce-a small part of the Doha Round agenda. However, as of now, as the future of the Doha Round remains uncertain, it can turn out to be a shattered dream for LDCs.


Dr Md Moniruzzaman is Associate Professor at the Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management.


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