Opinion December 31, 2015 | 10:01 am

Just before Christmas the Doha Development Round was all but declared as dead

Unlike therecent climate change talks in Paris, or even the late September globalagreement on Sustainable Development Goals at the UN, despite its equalimportance, the outcome at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) TenthMinisterial meeting in Nairobi, was scarcely mentioned in the Caribbean media.

This isunfortunate as the conference marked the moment when the developed and thedeveloping world formally parted company over the Doha development agenda withthe implication that the shape of world trade may change significantly to thedetriment of future opportunity for the region’s exporters of goods andservices.

By way ofbackground, in Doha in November 2001, all WTO member states agreed to negotiatenew world trade rules in a manner that would see in a single agreement, tariffsand other trade barriers reduced in ways that particularly helped developingnations.

Since then muchhas changed as new global and national economic and political imperatives haveemerged. This has meant that despite progress being made on the detail, every Ministerialmeeting from 2008 on has ended without any consensus on how to achieve an all-embracingsingle agreement that would meet the requirements of all developed anddeveloping countries.

The consequencehas been a sort of stalemate with, as an alternative, large nations negotiatingbi-regional and bilateral agreements with economically attractive groups ofnations or with individual states that are prepared offer freer trade inexchange for new economic opportunity and rapid growth.

At the Nairobiministerial however, something very different happened: at the suggestion ofthe US and Europe – with the apparent acquiescence of Brazil and possiblyothers- it was suggested that the idea of a single development round should beabandoned and a new approach taken to global trade negotiations.

The consequencewas an agreement to disagree, encapsulated in paragraph 30 of the postconference declaration: ‘We recognise that many Members reaffirm the DohaDevelopment Agenda, and the Declarations and Decisions adopted at Doha and atthe Ministerial Conferences held since then, and reaffirm their full commitmentto conclude the DDA on that basis. Other Members do not reaffirm the Dohamandates, as they believe new approaches are necessary to achieve meaningfuloutcomes in multilateral negotiations. Members have different views on how toaddress the negotiations.’

Although hedgedaround by the language contained in the declaration’s preceding and subsequent sections,which suggested that there was a strong commitment by all members ‘to advancenegotiations on the remaining Doha issues’ and that work agreed should‘maintain development at its centre’, there was no disguising what paragraph 30meant.

To emphasise thepoint, the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador MichaelFroman, issued a statement followingthe meeting which appeared, in US eyes at least, to declare the Doha Rounddead.

In it he said: “Our work in Nairobi marks a turning pointfor the WTO. Members agreed on a series of important outcomes on agricultureand development, and very importantly, started a new phase in the WTO’sevolution…. Members engaged in honest and focused conversations on thelimitations of the Doha Development Agenda framework. While opinionsremain divided among the WTO Membership, it is clear that the road to a new erafor the WTO began in Nairobi”…“As WTO members start work next year, they willbe freed to consider new approaches to pressing unresolved issues and beginevaluating new issues for the organisation to consider.”

Although his remarks prefaced his more positive views onthe specific outcomes of the meeting – new rules on export subsidies, exportcredits, state trading enterprises, and food aid; an agreement on information technology;priority being given to the interestsof the least developed countries; and special and differential treatment remainingan integral part of the process – Ambassador Froman made clear that the US wasnow looking for a “next phase in the evolution of the WTO and the developmentof the global trading system.”

Since then, somedeveloping country politicians have hit back, telling journalists that as faras they are concerned the substance of the Doha Round would continue to benegotiated. Amina Mohamed, the Kenyanchair of the meeting and Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, told apress conference that the language of the Nairobi Declaration specificallyprioritised outstanding Doha issues, and observed that no new issues could betaken up unless all WTO members agreed.

That said,anyone who is realistic will recognise that any formal agreement todisagree in a consensus based system must mean that any possibility of a singleundertaking on the Doha Development agenda is now at an end.

It also implies that the US and Europe, possibly togetherwith some of the world’s advanced developing nations will now seek to promote adialogue within the WTO about new and limited forms of agreement, and will wantto debate how negotiations are organised.

More than anything else the agreement to disagree in Nairobiis a reflection of the radical changes that have taken place in the last decadein location and exercise of global economic power.

Not only has the emergence of large developing economies includingChina, Brazil and India changed the dynamics of global decision making, but itis clear that like the US and Europe have rightly become just as determined to useinternational mechanisms in their own interests, working where these coincide,with others nations.

The effect has been to bring into question the futurerole of the WTO and once the dust has settled will likely set in train afundamental discussion about how a new trade policy approach might be developedthat takes account of the interests of developed and advanced developingeconomies while finding a place for very small economies.

Although many nations in Africa, the Pacific and theCaribbean will now want to fight the idea that the Doha Round is effectivelydead, this may be a moment for reflection and new opportunity for theregion. That is to say, a time for the Caribbeanto think carefully about how it might couple any such approach with a positionthat better serves its long term trade interests in relation to services,market opening, and difficulties in implementing economic integration.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council andcan be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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