The Doha “Development” Round: The World Trade Organization’s Controversial Agenda
The Doha “Development” Round: The World Trade Organization’s Controversial Agenda

The Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference was held in Doha, Qatar, 9-14 November 2001. While members were again moving toward negotiations, the round stalled and was not completed by 2005, as was previously scheduled. Foremost among the accomplishments of the negotiations so far is the Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health, which gives countries affordable options for addressing public health crises, such as the HIV/AIDS epidemic in southern Africa, without violating patents on treatment drugs. This marks a rare issue on which the developed and developing countries could reach agreement.

Other issues on the agenda, especially the reduction of trade barriers in the agriculture sector, put a divisive wedge between a group of developing countries and the industrialized European Union and United States. While the power dynamics in the WTO may be shifting as a result of the strong and unified position the developing world took at the talks in Cancun (see below), the potential to complete a productive round persists as countries look toward setting a realistic agenda for future negotiations in the round.

Negotiations during the 2003 Cancun talks focused primarily on agriculture, trade of services, customs, and industrial products. Later talks in 2004 in Geneva produced an agreement; the United States, the European Union, Brazil, and Japan agreed to end export subsidies, decrease tariffs, and decrease agricultural subsidies. Talks and conferences in Paris, Hong Kong, Geneva (2006), and Potsdam have shown few improvements since then. The Doha round is marked by disagreements over liberalizing agricultural and industrial markets, as well as ending agricultural subsidies (Congressional Research Service, 2008).

Unfortunately, in July 2006, the talks came to a close with no substantive goals met (Shah, 2006). Subsequent attempts in 2007 (Potsdam) and 2008 (Geneva) have failed. A mini-ministerial meeting was held in India on September 3-4, 2009. It resulted in a pledge to complete the Doha round by the end of 2010 (Guoyan, 2009). As of 2013 the talks have yet to be completed, though members have expressed interest.

The issues that the Doha Round was supposed to have addressed remain crucial, and many organizations have been trying to get the talks back on track.  In the wake of the worldwide recession, it is even more important to prioritize development initiatives in countries that will suffer from the economic downturn.

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