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Doha Development Round-Is There A Way Forward or Not?

Posted by C Joe O Mara on July 3rd, 2007

The abrupt and disappointing ending to the recent G-4 Ministerial (Brazil/representing the G-20, European Union, India/representing the G-30 and United States) in Potsdam was, without question, a major set back at a critical phase in the DDA negotiating process. But it is important to point out that the G-4 process was significant, and while it failed to produce an agreement to help build consensus in the broader WTO Membership, it has successfully identified the issues which need more focus and perhaps a new process to reach a final agreement.

Leading up to the Potsdam Ministerial, G-4 Senior Officials met in Paris to conclude several months of intense negotiations that resulted in significant progress on both Agriculture and Non-Agriculture Market Access (NAMA). The Potsdam meeting’s purpose was to set the foundation for what could have become a major breakthrough in the DDA. However, G-4 Ministers were unable to capture and build upon that progress.

Is the outcome of the Potsdam Ministerial a matter of process or substance?

At the time of the official suspension of the DDA in July 2006, it was very clear that there had been no convergence on any key issues in the Agriculture Negotiations, except for the agreement in Hong Kong to extend Duty Free Quota Free access to the Least Developing Countries. However, since the suspension, Ministers recommitted to the process and the G-4 members held a series of bilateral and group negotiations over the course of the year. This resulted in convergence on almost all of the major agriculture issues, in particular market access and domestic support. Efforts to broaden the process were reflected in Agriculture Committee Chairman Crawford Falconer’s two recent papers as "centers of gravity."

A positive outcome of the Potsdam Ministerial could have built momentum for gaining consensus on all major issues in the DDA. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that the G-4 cannot negotiate the final DDA Agreement. Given the outcome of the Potsdam Ministerial, clearly the G-4 process has not resulted in the intended outcome. Even though the G-4 process was not successful at reaching consensus at the Ministerial level, it does not mean there is no way forward and the DDA Negotiations have come to an end.

What are the next steps?

At this stage of the DDA negotiations, with the advances that have been made, it is important for all WTO Members to focus on the way forward and not on the lack of agreement at Potsdam. Determining the way forward should be developed in several steps.

First, all WTO Members should reflect on the consequences of the DDA not being successful. All WTO Members, developed and developing, have a major positive stake in the successful conclusion of the DDA. Bilateral and regional trade agreements can supplement a WTO Agreement but they are not an alternative. In agriculture, bilateral and regional agreements cannot establish international legally binding rules in all policy areas of agriculture. Also, in market access, the benefits are limited by exceptions for commodities and products which are designated for sensitive treatment. Specifically in Agriculture, without a DDA Agriculture Agreement there will be no:

  • Duty Free - Quota Free market access for the least developed WTO Members;
  • For developing and developed Members, elimination of export subsides; the most trade distorting subsides in agriculture;
  • Substantial reduction of trade distorting domestic support programs; and,
  • Substantial reduction in market access barriers.

Second, despite the major progress that has been made in informal negotiations since the July 2006 suspension, the G-4 has shown that another approach to develop convergence among WTO Members on major issues is necessary. On substance, the approach must concentrate in the near term on areas of the widest divergence: the terms and conditions of Special Product designation and treatment and the Special Product Safeguard. Clearly the roles of WTO Director General Lamy and Agriculture Negotiating Chairman Falconer are critical to facilitate the process. But the negotiation of the substance is clearly the role of WTO Members. The Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture (URAA) took eight years of very difficult negotiations. Despite what was not achieved, the opportunity before WTO Members in the DDA to advance substantially the liberalization of trade in agriculture would not be possible.

Despite the challenges, the way forward can be found, that is not the question. What is at issue is whether WTO Members have the collective political will to negotiate the necessary balance of all the interests involved to conclude the DDA successfully.

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