Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Is DOHA Dead?

The Doha Round of world trade negotiations - also known as the Doha Development Agenda , was launched in Doha, Qatar in November 2001. The talks aim at further liberalizing trade, whilst making it easier for developing countries, particularly Least Developed Countries (LDCs), to integrate into the WTO multilateral system. It’s the ninth round since the Second World War and the first since the WTO inherited the multilateral trading system in 1995. Progress in negotiations stalled after the breakdown of the July 2008 negotiations over disagreements concerning agriculture, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, services, and trade remedies The most significant differences are between developed nations led by the European Union (EU), the United States (USA), and Japan and the major developing countries led and represented mainly by India, Brazil, China, and South Africa. There have been repeated attempts to revive the talks, so far without success. The failure of Doha has led to the spurt of many bilateral free trade agreements and trading blocks. At present, three major trade deals are either at the final stages of negotiations or already completed. These agreements leave out most of the developing countries particularly the LDCs. Apart from these, many plurilateral agreements have been signed in the WTO forum. Unlike the multilateral WTO negotiations like Doha round which require consensus of all members and therefore nobody can be left out and the interests of poor countries can be taken care of, in plurilateral agreements countries can ‘opt out’. In the 10th ministerial meet in Nairobi, Kenya in Dec,2015, for the first time since the Doha round was launched, the WTO’s 164 members, declined to “reaffirm” Doha’s mandate. The declaration noted that many members reaffirm the DDA while others do not but that “nevertheless, there remains a strong commitment of all Members to advance negotiations on the remaining Doha issues.It also opened the door to discussing new issues and focusing more on delivering smaller packages of trade reforms. It also marked a victory for the US and EU, who alongside other developed economies have argued that clinging to the long-stalled Doha negotiations was making the institution irrelevant in a changing global economy. India and civil society groups, however, said the result in Nairobi was a blow to the world’s poor, arguing that by walking away from the Doha round, which put at least a rhetorical emphasis on development, the WTO was betraying its poorest members. Nairobi again demonstrated the power and influence of the developed countries especially the US. More importantly it showed that the lack of bargaining power of the Global South. It also showed that the world is still some distance away from becoming a genuine multipolar world. Inspite of the emergence of China and other BRICS countries, the global power structure remains intact. It saw the emergence of a ’coterie’ of few countries like US,EU, Brazil, China and India undertaking closed door negotiations to take the final decisions. There was no unity among the developing countries as Brazil mostly took the side of US and EU along with the DG of WTO Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil. India was unable to forcefully defend positions it had articulated over the past two years. It is now expected that the developed countries will bring in the ‘Singapore’ Issues like investment, competition, transparency in government procurement into the negotiating table in the next WTO ministerial conference.

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