Members Fail To Reach Consensus On Fate Of Doha Round, Future Of WTO Agenda

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Amid a continued divide among World Trade Organization members, negotiators here have punted on the issue of how to address the future of the Doha round in order to reach an agreement on a trade package that includes a deal on agriculture.

A ministerial declaration adopted by officials on Saturday afternoon (Dec. 19) -- one day after the scheduled close of the WTO's 10th ministerial -- acknowledges that some members are seeking to reaffirm the Doha round and past ministerial declarations, while others are not.

"We recognize that many Members reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions adopted at Doha and at the Ministerial Conferences held since then, and reaffirm their full commitment to conclude the DDA on that basis," paragraph 30 of the declaration says, according to a draft. "Other Members do not reaffirm the Doha mandates, as they believe new approaches are necessary to achieve meaningful outcomes in multilateral negotiations. Members have different views on how to address the negotiations. We acknowledge the strong legal structure of this Organization."

Prior to the ministerial, members were divided on what a lack of consensus on the reaffirmation would mean. The U.S. had made clear that it would interpret a ministerial declaration that did not explicitly reaffirm the Doha round as effectively concluding the single undertaking. In contrast, other members believe the round must be concluded by consensus because agenda was adopted by consensus in the 2001 ministerial declaration.

Language on the future of the Doha round as well as on the post-Nairobi work program were the most contentious issues surrounding the ministerial declaration. Negotiators here did not discuss these issues outside of small group consultations until Saturday, as members were focused on closing gaps on an agriculture package.

Many developed countries, including the United States and European Union, have publicly called for the conclusion of the Doha round because they believe its framework has failed to produce substantive outcomes and that members need to address new issues outside of the single undertaking, such as electronic commerce, investment and competition. Developing countries advocating for the continuation of the round believe that if the WTO negotiating arm takes on new issues, their priorities will be overshadowed by the new issues introduced by developed countries.

The declaration also takes note of this difference, while stating that the WTO can only begin negotiations on new issues if members agree to do so by consensus.

"While we concur that officials should prioritize work where results have not yet been achieved, some wish to identify and discuss other issues for negotiation; others do not," it says. "Any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally on such issues would need to be agreed by all Members."

While calling for the conclusion of the round, developed members also acknowledged that negotiations should continue on the outstanding key Doha round areas of agriculture, non-agricultural market access (NAMA), and services. The declaration also confirms this commitment.

"Nevertheless, there remains a strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues," it says. "This includes advancing work in all three pillars of agriculture, namely domestic support, market access and export competition, as well as non-agriculture market access, services, development, TRIPS and rules. Work on all the Ministerial Decisions adopted in Part II of this Declaration will remain an important element of our future agenda."

Members also removed language that sought to apply special and differential treatment to recently-acceded members (RAMs) because of the "higher level of commitments" under their accession terms. The RAMs group, which includes China, have argued they should be able to take on less extensive commitments than other members in future negotiations because they were required in the accession process to take on obligations that go beyond those contained in the Uruguay Round agreement.

"We recognize the special situation of the Members acceded in accordance with Article XII of the Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization who have undertaken extensive market access commitments at the time of accession. This situation shall be taken into account in the negotiations," the text says.

Both the Dec. 17 and 18 versions of the text said: "We recognize the extensive commitments undertaken by Members that acceded under Article XII. [For a balanced outcome, we further recognize the need in negotiations to take into account the higher level of commitments of Article XII Members [, especially the commitments of very recently acceded Members,] [, while fully applying the principle of Special and Differential Treatment] [to the extent possible and] [, in line with their prosperity and weight in global trade] [, in per capita terms]."

The declaration text also struck language regarding net food-importing developing countries (NFIDCs) that would have required members to "favourably consider the adoption of specific measures" that would provide preferential treatment to those members. In the last draft text circulated to members on Dec. 18, only the phrase "favourably consider" was bracketed. 

The text now reads: "We reaffirm our commitment to fully implement the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries, including differential treatment in line with the Marrakesh Decision in the context of the agriculture negotiations, in recognition of the challenges that these Members continue to face."

New transparency rules will also not be included in a final Nairobi package, according to the text. Members have been deadlocked over whether to implement new reporting disciplines on antidumping cases as well as on fisheries subsidies.

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