WTO’s Latest Doha Round

In a bid to bring major reforms in the international trading system and trading prospects of the developing nations, the Doha Round was launched in 2001 by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Doha, Qatar. It is the latest round of trade negotiation among WTO membership and is also known as the Doha Development Agenda.

The topic, ‘Doha Round’ is important for the IAS Exam preparation. Read similar important topics mentioned below:

  1. Geographical Indications
  2. Compulsory License
  3. GATT
  4. India and the WTO
  5. World Economic Forum

WTO Rounds of Trade Negotiations

There have been nine rounds of trade negotiations since the Second World War. The list of WTO rounds (initially as GATT) are mentioned below:

  1. Geneva Round (April 1947) – GATT was signed.
  2. Annecy Round (April 1949) – Tariff Concessions discussed.
  3. Torquay Round (September 1950) – Cut in tariff levels.
  4. Geneva II Round (January 1956) – Japan was admitted and tariff reductions.
  5. Dillion round (September 1960) – Tariff Concessions.
  6. Kennedy Round (May 1964) – Tariff Concessions and Anti-Dumping covered.
  7. Tokyo Round (September 1973) – Tariff, Non-Tariff measures discussed.
  8. Uruguay Round (September 1986) – WTO was created, tariffs and agricultural subsidies were reduced.
  9. Doha Round (November 2001) – Read the overview of Doha Development Agenda below:

Overview of Doha Development Agenda

The trade negotiations are achieved by consensus and with the single undertaking. Doha Round is formally not completed but some issues related to Doha Development Agenda were taken up in the Nairobi Ministerial Conference (10th WTO Ministerial Conference) that took place in December 2015. Read the overview below:

  1. It is the first round of negotiations since the WTO adopted a multilateral trading system in 1995 and the first of the nine rounds to put the development of developing nations at the centre stage.
  2. 157 members of the WTO participated in the Doha Round
  3. The major subjects for negotiations that are covered in Doha Round are:
    1. Multilateral environmental agreements
    2. Trade barriers on environmental goods & services
    3. Fisheries subsidies
  4. The negotiations on the trade and the environment were the first of its kind in WTO/GATT rounds of negotiations.
  5. Issue of the Geographical Indications is the only intellectual property right issue included in the Doha Round.
  6. The Doha Round is formally not completed.

One of the focus points of Doha Round was to put the development of the developing and lesser developed countries at the heart of the trade negotiations. Special and differential treatment for the developing countries made the core of the Doha Development Agenda.

Objectives of the WTO Doha Round

The Doha Round held negotiations over the following main subjects:

Doha Round
Subjects Aim
  • More Market Access
  • Elimination of Export Subsidies
  • Reduction of distorting domestic support
  • Sorting out issues of developing countries
  • Deal with non-trade concerns (food security, rural development, etc.)
Non-Agriculture Market Access (NAMA)
  • Reduce/Eliminate Tariffs and Non-Tariff Barriers
  • Improve Market Access
  • Strengthen rules related to market access

Note: Negotiations related to Services are based on:

  • Bilateral/Plurilateral Negotiations
  • Multilateral negotiations
Trade Facilitation
  • Ease Custom Procedure

Note: Trade facilitation is an important addition to the overall negotiations as an aid to cut corruption in custom procedures

Rules related to:

  • Anti-dumping
  • Subsidies and countervailing measures
  • Fisheries subsidies
  • Regional trade
  • Clarify and improve disciplines under the Anti-Dumping and Subsidies agreements
  • Clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries
  • Freer trade in environmental goods
  • Environmental agreements
Geographical Indications
  • Facilitate the protection of wines and spirits in participating countries
Dispute Settlement
  • Improve dispute settlement understanding

Doha Round – Success or Failure

Doha Round negotiations have been stalled as the participating countries could not reach a consensus over trade negotiations with major differences between developed and developing countries. As a matter of debate, the following points can be taken as the reason of the failure of Doha Round:

  1. The developed countries especially EU, the USA, Canada and Japan had differences with developing countries (India, Brazil, China, South Africa) arguments over Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM)
  2. The negotiations considered in the Doha Round were taken up in Geneva in 2008 but were again stalled due to the lack of consensus on SSM.
What is a Special Safeguard Mechanism?

It is a mechanism used by countries to put a restraint on international trade to protect domestic industries from foreign competition.

With a focus on WTO, a participating nation can take a safeguard action, such as restricting imports of a product temporarily to protect a domestic industry from an increase in imports causing or threatening to cause injury to domestic production.

  1. Issues over agricultural trade between the US, India and China led to the collapse of negotiations that started in Geneva in 2008.
  2. The Doha talks followed in the ministerial conferences at Cancun, Geneva, Hong Kong have been unable to reach a consensus (especially the breakdown of the Cancun negotiations.)
  3. The SSM and Special Agricultural Safeguard (SSG) – SSG is mentioned in the Uruguay Round but many developing countries were unable to make its use as it is available for only those goods in which non-tariff barriers have been converted to equivalent tariff barriers.

India in Doha Round

India puts forth the following stance:

  • It supports Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) to protect its farmers from the import surge.
  • It supports the development agenda of the Doha round for the developing nations and wants each country to support the same.
  • The government focussed on the need for the successful completion of Doha Round and wanting developed nations to undertake greater market-opening commitments.
  • India also wants rich countries to drastically reduce its ‘trade-distorting’ farm subsidies.
  • India wants a permanent solution to the issue of public food stockholding in developing countries for the purpose of food security.
  • It supports duty-free and quota-free market access for developing nations.
  • India has consistently opposed an expansion of the multilateral trading system in the direction of negotiating and implementing multilateral agreements on investment, competition policy, and government procurement – a possibility created by the Singapore Ministerial Declaration of 1996.
  • In the Doha Round, India’s then Commerce and Industry Minister emphasised on the need to recognize the existing development deficit in the WTO agreements; and also drew attention to the asymmetries in the agreements of the Uruguay Rounds and the TRIPS agreement.
  • It argued that IPR protection under geographical indication should not be limited only to wine and spirits but should be extended to include other products (such as Basmati rice)
  • It pushed for restrictions on the use/misuse of biological and genetic resources and traditional knowledge.
Following India’s stance on hindrance brought by TRIPS over the issue of compulsory licenses of necessary pharmaceuticals; Doha Declaration recognized its need and in the following ministerial meeting at Cancun, Mexico in 2003, it was announced that:

“The domestic market requirement of compulsory licensing was waived and least developed countries, as well as those countries that lacked sufficient manufacturing capacity, were permitted to use compulsory licensing to import pharmaceuticals for “HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics” from third parties.

Note: India has ratified this amendment.

  • At the Cancun ministerial conference, Arun Jaitely (The then Minister of Commerce and Industry) argued over agricultural negotiations stating that the developed countries have high levels of agricultural subsidies and these are far greater than what these countries spent on official development assistance.
  • India demands elimination of trade-distorting domestic support from other WTO members and has insisted on the system of proportionality (Which needs developed nations to make greater concessions than the developed countries.)

Doha Round and related WTO Ministerial Conferences

The following table list down the WTO Ministerial Conferences (MC) that followed Doha Round:

Cancun 2003 To agree on the Doha Round objectives

Outcome – Failed

Geneva 2004 Reached Framework Agreement called the July Package that includes board guidelines to complete Doha Round negotiations
Paris 2005 To make tangible transition process to Doha Round negotiations

Outcome – Failed

Hong Kong 2005 The conference pushed back the expected completion of the Doha round until the end of 2006
Geneva 2006 Failed to reach an agreement over farm subsidies, import taxes

Outcome – Failed

Potsdam 2007 Failed due to disagreement over opening up agricultural and industrial markets in various countries
Geneva 2008 Stalled due to the disagreement over Special Safeguard Mechanism
Nairobi 2015 Adoption of Nairobi Package

It is taken as an end to the Doha Round but no formal announcement has been made

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