An “Everything But Development” Round from Doha

DOHA: The 4th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization ended here on 14 November, almost a day behind its scheduled close, after adopting a declaration which could best be described as an “Everything But Development” agenda of trade negotiations.

For, if all the new issues taken on board at Doha go forward, the already limited ‘space’ available to countries to adopt domestic policies to foster development would be even further eroded.

The agenda would help the major global corporations to expand at the expense of domestic enterprises (under spurious theories of ‘efficiency’ and ‘competitiveness’). To call the programme, as many industrialized nations and even some developing ones did at Doha, a development programme is Orwellian double-speak.

Besides the Ministerial Declaration setting the work programme, reached through a US-brokered deal encompassing every demand of the European Union on the developing world, the conference also adopted a separate Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, and a decision on implementation issues that, despite many claims, is devoid of any serious economic content to benefit the South. (The three texts are available on the WTO website,

While the EC has won all its points, it is not even clear what the US has got for brokering the deal. (The European Communities, EC, is the name by which the EU is referred to in the WTO.)

The Declaration on the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement and Public Health is perhaps a gain for the developing world, but it is a political declaration without any legal or binding effect, and the powerful pharmaceutical lobby which has benefited from the TRIPS-sanctioned global corporate monopoly can be depended upon (when the interest of civil society groups moves on to other issues) to try and undercut the political gain. (See the two articles on this Declaration on pp. 14-15.)

Several of the civil society groups campaigning on this issue were aware of this at Doha, and said that in fact  they have to regroup and keep up the pressure so that the mandated review of the TRIPS Agreement itself will rewrite the rules in order to ensure cheaper access to medicines by enabling generic competition.

The main Ministerial Declaration takes on board all the so-called “Singapore issues” (i.e., investment, competition policy, government procurement, and trade facilitation) by providing for a work programme to develop modalities of negotiations on rules and disciplines (including dispute settlement) over the next two years, with negotiations for agreements on each of the four issues to be launched at the 5th Ministerial Conference on the basis of a decision, to be agreed upon by explicit consensus, on the modalities.

All the worst features of the Uruguay Round’s methods of negotiation under the old GATT (a provisional treaty which was the WTO’s precursor), and the ad hoc way its mandates could be amended and expanded, have now been brought back into the work undertaken under the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, in violation of the spirit if not the letter of its provisions on changes and amendments to existing agreements.

Trade diplomats and trade ministries will come to regret this soon, more so when civil society in their countries have become more aware, even if their voices have been temporarily drowned out by the din of the war on terrorism. The only beneficiaries would be the US and EC trade bureaucracies, which are trying to use their remit for trade negotiations to prevail over the wings of governments and legislative processes.

Another effect of the wide-ranging negotiations across a range of many new subjects with no proximate relationship to trade (and as a “single undertaking” at that) is that the conclusion of the agriculture negotiations (on which many developing countries have pinned their hopes of improving market access into the highly protected European, Japanese and Korean markets) would be very much delayed and prolonged.

Opposition and submission

Even the oppressive “green room” decision-making process, under which talks are held among a select few Members to apply maximum pressure on one or two resisting the demands, returned with a vengeance at Doha. This, along with the effective restrictions on media access to even the corridors of negotiating rooms, and what appears to have been a cleverly orchestrated misinformation campaign, managed to create many suspicions among various groups of countries.

One by one, the leaders of the various interest groups caved in to the EC demands: the countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group were won over by the Ministerial’s approval of a WTO-GATT waiver for the Cotonou Agreement (under which the EC would grant trade preferences to the ACP countries), the least developed countries (LDCs) by formulations in the Ministerial Declaration about technical assistance to them for capacity-building, etc.

India, which had been steadfastly fighting negotiations on the Singapore issues, was in a sense ‘isolated’ in that a few other Members which had not dissimilar views did not speak up in the night-long green-room sessions on 13-14 November night.

With every revision of the earlier draft Ministerial Declaration taking a harder line on the EC demands, and with new demands and new subjects constantly being brought up by EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy (the new language and formulation for environment negotiations was sprung on the green room at 3 am on the 14th - negotiators had been called in at 6pm of the 13th), the entire process turned out to be coercive, initimidatory and non-transparent.

Nevertheless, India resisted negotiations on the four Singapore issues, in effect single-handedly. When its concerns were ignored and the new draft was brought up on the 14th before a meeting of heads of delegation, India repeated its views and said unless its concerns were met it would not be able to join the consensus. A few other countries spoke “sharing India’s concerns” but not specifically saying they would join India to withhold consensus.

When it became clear that India would not budge, some last-minute compromises were worked out, and a statement by the Chairman of the conference, Qatar’s Youssef Hussain Kamal, preceded the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration.

The statement clarified the meaning of the references in the declaration (in paragraphs 20 on investment, 23 on competition policy, 26 on government procurement, and 27 on trade facilitation) to decisions by “explicit consensus” at the next Ministerial. The Chairman told the final plenary, before the declaration was adopted:

“I would like to note that some delegations have requested clarification concerning paragraphs 20, 23, 26 and 27 of the draft declaration. Let me say that with respect to the reference to an ‘explicit consensus’ being needed, in these paragraphs, for a decision to be taken at the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference, my understanding is that, at that Session, a decision would indeed need to be taken, by explicit consensus, before negotiations on Trade and Investment and Trade and Competition Policy, Transparency in Government Procurement and Trade Facilitation could proceed.

“In my view, this would give each Member the right to take a position on modalities that would prevent negotiations from proceeding after the Fifth Session of the Ministerial Conference until that Member is prepared to join in an explicit consensus.”

While the first part of the statement more or less hews to traditional GATT practice in such matters, the second paragraph indicates that it is the Chairman’s “view”.

Perhaps this may enable developing countries - and there are a large number of them still opposed to WTO rules in these four areas, since they would in fact constrict the development policies of countries - to block negotiations on any framework that would be detrimental to their interests.

Though the Indian Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran was not happy with it, he allowed the Ministerial Declaration to be adopted. Whether the Chairman’s wording is just a fig-leaf or something else remains to be seen. After all, the mandates set by the 1st Ministerial Conference in Singapore in 1996 too provided that negotiations would begin only on the basis of consensus, and yet heavy pressure was applied to get that ‘consensus’.

As presented, the formulations in the Ministerial Declaration mean that the work in the next two years to develop the modalities of negotiations on the four Singapore issues would move into a negotiating phase after the 5th Ministerial Conference subject to “explicit consensus” on the modalities.

Nevertheless, it is clear that at least in India, the Doha declaration and what did or did not happen there is going to fuel sharp opposition, given that even the ruling coalition is made up of those wanting ‘globalization’ and those sharply opposed and insisting on a ‘nationalist’ position.

The text in the Ministerial Declaration concerning the mandate of the agriculture negotiations, on which the Cairns Group (of agricultural exporter countries) had focused so much attention to the extent of seemingly being willing to accommodate the EC on the new issues in return, is worded such, however, that the Group’s objective of “phasing out” agriculture export subsidies has been pushed into the never-never future: “... we commit ourselves to comprehensive negotiations aimed at: substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.” Thus, the phasing-out is just a (long-term?) objective, and one is reminded of the Keynesian phrase, in the long term we shall all be dead.

As a result, the Cairns Group’s stand on the new issues - “we are not demandeurs but we can agree to negotiations in these areas, subject to a more comprehensive mandate in agriculture (beyond that in Art. 20 of the Agriculture Agreement)” -  has probably not achieved what was sought.

The LDCs, led by Tanzania which suddenly changed its mind (for unexplained reasons) and resiled from the Zanzibar mandate of LDC ministers in accepting the new issues on the promise of technical aid and support for capacity-building in negotiations, may also emerge ultimately as losers. And given the fact that the various intergovernmental organizations seeking to provide technical help are looking to funding from development cooperation ministries in the North, even their future technical assistance for the negotiations may be dubious. (SUNS5011)

   The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.