A sinking Doha Round

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on August 01, 2012

Last December, at the eighth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation held in Geneva, there was, once again, an exemplary show of determination with the participating Ministers committing themselves “to work actively, in a transparent and inclusive manner, towards a successful multilateral conclusion of the Doha Development Agenda in accordance with its mandate”.

Promises were made “to advance negotiations, where progress can be achieved, including focussing on the elements of the Doha Declaration that allow members to reach provisional or definitive agreements based on consensus earlier than the full conclusion of the single undertaking”. It was also reiterated that members would “intensify their efforts to look into ways that may allow members to overcome the most critical and fundamental stalemates in the areas where multilateral convergence has proven to be especially challenging”.

Meagre harvest

The Doha Round was officially launched at the fourth ministerial conference held at Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, the operationalisation of the Round being targeted within five years. Ten years have passed since, and promises are still being made by member Governments to get the Round off the negotiating table, the last ceremonial occasion when such commitments were made being the eighth ministerial conference. Seven months since that conference, what is the state of play? No doubt, the person who can give us a reliable picture of what has been happening is the WTO director-general, Pascal Lamy, himself, and this is what he had to tell the organisation’s General Council on July 25.

Certainly, there has been no end to negotiations but, as Lamy said rather bluntly, “the harvest from the first half of this year has been meagre”.

Theme of distrust

Sometime ago it had appeared that Paragraph 47 of the Doha Declaration would be able to play the role of saviour of the Round in that, while maintaining the “single undertaking” character of the entire business, the concession was made that “agreements reached at an early stage may be implemented on a provisional or a definitive basis,” such agreements being taken into account “in assessing the overall balance of the negotiations”.

But things have not quite worked out in the way envisioned. As Lamy reported, several delegations in Geneva warned against “selectivity in implementing Paragraph 47 and expressed concern about achieving the right balance within this approach”. This apart, there is also the recurrent theme of distrust, the WTO chief reporting that he had heard “several participants stress the importance of transparency, inclusiveness and multilateralism in any processes ahead, including in agreeing on early harvest candidates”. The simple conclusion, therefore, is that even more time has been wasted on getting the Doha Round going, perhaps not because the world’s leaders are not interested in its successful conclusion but because their hands are tied by the demands of the strong manufacturing and trading lobbies in each of their respective countries, not to speak of the general economic downturn when these sectional interests get even more voluble.

Lamy told the General Council that, “as time passes, inexorably, the Round might lose all its remaining steam”. Perhaps, the Round is already dead. Long live the Round!

Published on August 01, 2012

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