Relevance of WTO: The ever ongoing Doha Development Round

Relevance of WTO: The ever ongoing Doha Development Round

The World Trade Organization like all other organizations that were born post the Second World War negotiations and are a part of the resulting policy framework & institutional structures that were negotiated for and emerged from the same, often find themselves facing the existential question. At the core of what makes WTO’s place as an international trade negotiations body questionable is the Doha Development Round that has dragged on for years. It is seen as a lost opportunity since country to country negotiations and regional trade pacts are becoming a reality and the all-encompassing universal trade body that was supposed to be the platform for trade negotiations and law making has descended into a place of perennial wrangling. The conflicts that are up for resolution at WTO often include the ones related to anti-dumping & countervailing duties and subsidized exports. In the Indian context, such cases are handled by the Directorate General of Anti-dumping and Allied Duties, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, India.

Doha Development Round over the years

Conference / Negotiations Time Period
Doha, Qatar (Launch of the Doha Development Agenda) Fourth Ministerial Conference November, 2001
Cancun, Mexico (Fifth Ministerial Conference for Stock-taking) September, 2003
Working Committee on trade facilitation and 3 other ‘Singapore issues’, other issues dropped after July, 2004. ‘Trade Facilitation’ retained 1996-2003
July Package for ironing out issues for further negotiations, Trade Facilitation adopted as an immediate negotiation subject July end / August 1, 2004
Deadline for reaching agreements under the Doha Round; Deadline extended to 2006 end 1 January 2005
Director General Pascal Lamy suspended the Doha Round July 2006
Geneva round on Doha Development Agenda, little progress made July 2008
Focus on Trade Facilitation December, 2011
Agreement reached on Trade Facilitation; touted as the ‘trillion dollar deal’

Issues & Concerns of Developing Countries


December, 2013


Now, let’s go through some prominent issues under discussion and a low-down on the same:

  1. Agreement on Agriculture

It calls for the end agreement to commit to substantial improvements in market access; reductions of all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting support.

  1. Sanitary & Phytosanitary measures

Under the SPS agreement, the WTO sets constraints on member-states’ policies related to food safety (bacterial contaminants, pesticides, inspection and labelling) as well as animal and plant health (phyto-sanitation) with respect to imported pests and diseases.

  1. Non-Agricultural Market Access

NAMA negotiations of the World Trade Organization are based on the Doha Declaration of 2001 which called for a reduction or elimination in tariffs, particularly on exportable goods of interest to developing countries. NAMA covers manufacturing products, fuels and mining products, fish and fish products, and forestry products. These products are not covered by the Agreement on Agriculture or the negotiations on services.

  1. Technical barriers to trade

These negotiations take place in the Negotiating Group on Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA). In the NTB area, where work has been on-going since 2002, several proposals relate to the implementation of the TBT Agreement.

Some of these proposals cover particular sectors (textiles, electronics, automobiles, chemicals), while others address disciplines affecting all products (transparency, conformity assessment and international standards).

  1. TRIPS

It relates to interpretation of Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) which is consistent with public health and the provision of due importance to access to medicine, and research and development in the field.

  1. TRIMS

Local content requirement negotiations are managed under this category. The developed countries are of the view that all types of trade-restricting investment measures should be phased out. On the other hand, the developing countries are not in favor of removing all investment measures.

  1. Rules of Origin

Duty levied on products from different countries varies depending on the country in which the product is manufactured. For instance, goods manufactured in Mexico may carry lower import duty in US rather than from other countries.

  1. Services

Many developed countries are looking for new export opportunities in sectors such as financial services, telecoms, energy services, express delivery and distribution services.

  1. Special and differential treatment provisions

These are meant for developing and Least Developing Countries (LDCs)

  1. Agreement on Textiles & Clothing

System of import quotas that has dominated the trade since the early 1960s has been phased out. Like Agriculture, Textiles segment was one of the toughest to negotiate over.

  1. Subsidies & Countervailing duties

This particular agreement does the following:

1)         Disciplines the use of subsidies

2)         Regulates the actions that the countries can take to counter the effect of subsidies

  1. Anti-dumping

If a company exports a product at a price lower than the price it charges normally in its home market, then it is called “dumping” the product. Anti-Dumping agreement focuses only on the reaction to dumping contrasts with an approach Subsidies and countervailing measures agreement.

Bali negotiations again established the relevance and prominence of WTO. This was the first real deal struck between the member countries after years of negotiations. The organization is relevant but given the diverse issues and the interest of specific group of member countries – developing, developed or LDCs – it is only obvious that the desired results are not easy to come by.

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