U.S., Other WTO Members Dispute Meaning Of Ministerial Declaration Language On Doha

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The United States and other World Trade Organization members are taking different positions on whether the wording of the ministerial declaration issued here means the Doha round will continue or not.

The U.S. prior to the ministerial made clear it would interpret a ministerial declaration that did not explicitly reaffirm the Doha round as effectively ending the Doha architecture. In the U.S. view, the only way to retain the Doha architecture is a consensus statement doing so.

In a statement issued at the conclusion of the ministerial, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman signaled the U.S. belief that the single undertaking of the Doha round is no more, despite the absence of a consensus in the ministerial declaration.

“While opinions remain divided among the WTO Membership, it is clear that the road to a new era for the WTO began in Nairobi," Froman said. “As WTO members start work next year, they will be freed to consider new approaches to pressing unresolved issues and begin evaluating new issues for the organization to consider."

However, the ministerial declaration spells out specifically that any decision to launch negotiations multilaterally on new issues would need to be approved by all members of the WTO. The U.S., European Union and Japan have publicly advocated for placing new issues on the WTO's agenda, such as investment, competition, and electronic commerce.

In contrast, developing members such as India and China had taken the position that because the WTO functions as a consensus organization, the Doha round would only end if there was a consensus decision to do so and no such agreement was reached at the Nairobi ministerial. In their view, introducing new issues would overshadow their interests in continuing the Doha architecture, which assures them special and differential treatment and less than full reciprocity.

Still other members are non-committal on the status of the round. European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, when asked if the ministerial declaration language meant that the Doha round is done, said that the language “didn't predispose anything."

The declaration calls on officials to work to find ways to advance negotiations and have the WTO Director General report regularly to the General Council on these efforts. If the work on a post-Nairobi agenda stalls, members could turn to plurilaterals as a format to negotiate outstanding Doha round issues, including agricultural domestic support and market access, one government official speculated.

The division on the Doha round is laid out in paragraph 30 of the ministerial declaration. It says “many members” reaffirm the Doha Development Agenda and their full commitment to concluding the round based on the decisions and declarations adopted at the 2001 launch and afterward.

In the same paragraph, the declaration says that “other members” do not reaffirm the Doha mandates as they believe new approaches are necessary to achieve meaningful outcomes in multilateral negotiations. The declaration says members have “different views on how to address the negotiations,” but says all of them have a “strong commitment to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues.”

"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, [The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS)] and rules,” the declaration says.

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