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Analysis of the WTO Doha Ministerial Declaration

World Development Movement

Analysis of the Final Ministerial Declaration of the 4th Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Doha

(See … WTO DOHA: Final Ministerial Declaration)

Preamble: (Paras 1-11)
The Preamble provides uncritical praise for trade liberalisation, without acknowledging the deep problems that the Uruguay Round has caused for the poorest countries. It includes a statement reaffirming the rights of governments to regulate supply of services. However, this is meaningless since the Preamble has no legal status, and would be overridden by specific provisions under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Implementation Issues: (Para 12)
Developing countries tabled 102 issues in the run-up to Seattle which were to have been dealt with as a matter of priority. These were problems arising either from commitments that have not been implemented by the rich countries, or problems with implementations by developing countries due to their lack of capacity or the adverse impacts on their development. The text includes some further consideration of these issues, some non-binding encouragement for the developed countries to be sympathetic, but has only minor adjustments on the way these agreements are implemented. In particular, the commitment to allow quota fee and tariff free access to exports from developing countries has remained as an aspiration. Some countries such as New Zealand have done so - the EU has retained temporary protection for bananas and domestic producers of sugar and rice. Many other countries have failed to act on this long-standing commitment, despite the small proportion of trade that LDCs represent - with 10% of the world’s population, they only account for 0.4% of world trade.

Aside from the ongoing negotiations on agriculture, there will be negotiations on fisheries and anti-dumping laws (as part of ‘Subsidies and Countervailing Measures’), but these are riddled with caveats and get-out clauses for the developed countries. There will be a report prepared on the remaining implementation issues for discussion at the end of 2002, for possible action thereafter. A problem is that developing countries will be asked to pay twice in terms of their inclusion in negotiations. The lack of concrete actions to resolve these problems identified as a matter of the highest priority by developing countries makes a mockery of the concept of the "Development Round", and calls into question the real commitment of the British government and the EU to make trade rules fairer to the poor.

Agriculture: (Para 13-14)
The agriculture negotiations started in January 2000 and are ongoing. The main point of contention in Doha was whether the EU would agree to the aim of "reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies." At the last hour, they did agree, but added a caveat to say that this aim is "without prejudging the outcome of negotiations". This severely undermines any commitment to open up EU agricultural markets to exports from developing world.

Services: (Para 15)
The text does not include the proposals from developing countries for an assessment to precede any negotiations (as specified in the GATS agreement) and sets dates for making proposals on liberalisation. Requests for countries to open up their services sectors will be submitted by 30 June 2002 and initial offers of countries to liberalise will be submitted by 31 March 2003. Negotiations on services, as with the other agreements, will be completed by 1 January 2005. This is a very compressed timetable, meaning that developing countries would not be able to undertake the required research and consultation before having to offer up service sectors for liberalisation. The commitments that they make would effectively be irreversible under the disciplines of Article XXI.

In another section of the Declaration (on WTO Rules), there is a dangerous new commitment to "the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services." Not only would this include environmentally damaging services such as nuclear waste processing, but would include services such as water. This would then provide an accelerated commitment for opening up the supply of water, waste collection and disposal, and other services, often provided by the public sector, in all countries.

Negotiations on market access for non-agricultural products: (Para 16)
The agreement commits to new negotiations on all products, without exclusions. It includes issues of importance to developing countries such as tariff peaks and tariff escalation, and "less than full reciprocity in reduction commitments" for developing and Least Developed Countries. But developing countries argue that they should not be required to give up their protection for local businesses at all, given their stage of development and recognizing that some of the highest protection is used by the rich nations to block exports from the developing world. Nor does it include the repeated call from developing countries for assessment of their experience of tariff reductions under the Uruguay Round before making any new commitments.

TRIPs: (Para 17-19)
The Declaration on TRIPs and Public Health confirms the existing agreement in saying that the TRIPs agreement "does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health". The Declaration was only required because of the aggressive attacks by the US on the rights of countries to prioritise affordable treatment for health emergencies such as HIV/AIDS. Developing countries were forced to waste a huge amount of time clarifying that the existing agreement allows them to do so. There is still doubt as to whether the declaration will be fully legally enforceable. There was little attention to other problems with the TRIPs agreement, including African nations’ proposals to strengthen traditional rights over natural resources and traditional knowledge against biopiracy (as in multinationals patenting the active ingredients of plants used by indigenous peoples), to prohibit the patenting of life, and a clear statement that the Biosafety Protocol (allowing countries to refuse the release of GM seeds) takes precedence over WTO rules.

Investment and Competition Policy: (Para 20-25)
The Ministerial Declaration includes a complicated agreement to start pre-negotiations on both of these issues, but a decision on full negotiations must be taken on the basis of explicit consensus at the next Ministerial conference (in two years’ time). These agreements have been highly controversial, since they were rejected by developing countries at the Singapore Ministerial meeting in 1996 (along with government procurement and trade facilitation, they are often referred to as the ‘Singapore issues’). A Working Group was established with the condition that negotiations would start only on the basis of an explicit consensus amongst WTO members. Such a consensus does not exist and these issues should never have been in the agenda that came to Qatar. The majority of developing countries have consistently opposed negotiations on these issues, pointing out that they are mainly in the interests of multinationals from the rich world. In a deeply unfair negotiations process in Geneva, the statements from around 90 developing countries against starting negotiations were ignored. The EU gave extremely high priority to these issues - according to negotiators from other countries, these issues were the highest priority, along with agriculture. In Doha, these issues were initially dropped and then dramatically inserted on a take-it or leave-it basis at the very last stage.

Transparency in Government Procurement and Trade Facilitation: (Para 26-27)
Again, the Ministerial Declaration includes a complicated agreement to start pre-negotiations on both of these issues, but a decision on full negotiations must be taken on the basis of explicit consensus at the next Ministerial conference (in two years’ time). Developing countries consider that negotiations on government procurement have little to do with trade and do not belong in the WTO, and are not included in the mandated that established the WTO in 1995. The negotiations will be limited to transparency in government procurement, an apparently innocuous step, but developing countries are concerned that this will lead to negotiations on opening up government procurement in developing countries (often used as an important instrument for development) to foreign multinationals. This is the stated aim of many of the developed countries. Of even more concern is the potential use of transparency as a means to provide muItinationals with a means to challenge government procurement policies. It is a thin end of a dangerous wedge to start negotiations on this issue.

WTO Rules: (Para 28-29)
There is an apparent commitment to negotiate on the issues that are important to many countries, including stopping the abuse of anti-dumping rules by the rich countries. However, the Declaration includes a caveat in saying that there will be negotiations "while preserving the basic concepts, principles and effectiveness of these Agreements and their instruments and objectives". This renders such negotiations virtually powerless.

Environment: (Para 31-33)
The Declaration includes negotiations on Multilaterial Environmental Agreements (MEAs). However, there are again caveats. The text includes the statement "the negotiations shall not prejudice the WTO rights of any Member that is not a party to the MEA in question". That gives the USA a let-out clause on agreements they have not signed, such as the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and the Biosafety Protocol. It also provides an incentive for countries not to sign up to MEAs, thereby benefiting from international action without being bound by any of its provisions. There will be negotiations on fisheries subsidies that have caused huge problems for community and small fisheries in developing countries. However, again there are caveats. The negotiations will only "aim to clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies" without aiming to stop their use by the EU to deplete the fisheries of West Africa and other regions.

There is also to be continued work in the Committee on Trade and the Environment on TRIPs and eco-labelling. A decision on whether to negotiate will be taken at the next Ministerial meeting.

The Work Programme: (Para 45-52)
This agenda of trade negotiations is proposed to be completed within 3 years. This is a very short period, given the huge agenda and the experience of the last Round of trade negotiations (the Uruguay Round) that took 8 years. Developing countries have repeatedly said that they cannot undertake a massive new work programme, especially given economic crisis in many of the poorest countries. The promises of funds for capacity building come in the context of falling aid budgets and a string of broken promises in the past. Money will only be diverted from other uses, such as health care and education. Building capacity to undertake negotiations requires many years, requiring hiring of staff, training and gaining the necessary expertise. The huge agenda and lack of capacity means commitments would be made without the necessary research, assessment and public consultation.

The pressures on them are added through the creation of a new committee to oversee the negotiations and the grouping together of all the issues into a single package. As seen in Doha, it is extremely difficult for developing countries to reject a big package of measures and put at risk the multilateral trade system that could protect them from targeting by the major trading powers. In Doha, as in previous agreements, it was obvious that this could be achieved through unfair multilateral processes as well as bilateral action. There is no commitment in the Declaration to the "fundamental and radical reform" of the WTO called for in Seattle by Stephen Byers, then UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

Barry Coates in Doha on +44 7702 236 418 (UK mobile)
or 5392710 (Qatari mobile).

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