Doha: a disaster for the world’s poor

The following is a statement issued by the UK-based World Development Movement on 14 November when the WTO Doha Conference ended.

by Barry Coates

THE World Development Movement condemns the Declaration agreed by the WTO Ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar as a disaster for the world’s poor.

This is a massive defeat for poor people around the world. The much-hyped development round is empty of development. This massive extension of the WTO is both reckless and dangerous. It will further undermine the WTO’s legitimacy. The cost of current trade agreements is already being counted in people’s lives. Developing countries do not have the capacity or the wish to negotiate these new agreements.

The Declaration agrees to launch new trade agreements on industrial tariffs, implementation, intellectual property rights, subsidies and countervailing duties, regional trade agreements, dispute settlement and the environment, in addition to the ongoing negotiations on agriculture and services. All this would be negotiated as a package by the beginning of 2005.

This is an impossible workload even for the larger middle-income countries, let alone the world’s poorest countries. It is a recipe for their further marginalisation.

In addition there was a fudge on the deeply contentious issues of investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement and trade facilitation. Pre-negotiations will start, but any decision to launch full negotiations will need explicit consensus on the specifics at the next Ministerial meeting in two years’ time.

The deeply unfair process before Doha meant that almost the whole of the Ministerial Conference was devoted to issues of interest to the rich countries. The concept of a development round was completely sidelined. The poorest countries in the world, such as Mozambique, were forced to spend their time negotiating on investment agreements and intellectual property rights, instead of improving their access to developed countries’ markets. 

In mounting huge pressure for their own agenda, the UK and the EU played Russian Roulette with the trading system in Doha, pushing the meeting to the brink of collapse in order to start negotiations on investment and competition policy, agreements that developing countries said are largely in the interests of the rich world’s multinationals. They failed. The tragedy was that the issues of vital importance to the world’s poor didn’t get a look-in.

The EU and US have exploited the vulnerability of poor countries in order to force their agenda on them. Even where it appears that developing countries may benefit, the Declaration is so riddled with holes and get-out clauses that the gains are likely to be illusory.


The world desperately needed an opportunity to fix the broken promises from the last round of negotiations. Tony Blair has called for an end to the ‘hypocrisy’ of the richest nations protecting their markets from the exports of the poorest while claiming to be concerned for the world’s poor. The British Government and the EU have played a shameless role in taking this hypocrisy to new heights.

This deal would not have happened without the abuse of the negotiations that has seen countries threatened and bullied. There have been secret talks and countries locked out of meetings. As a result, the demands of developing countries were marginalised or just downright ignored from the very beginning.

Developing countries were well organised, strong in their positions and supported by WDM and other NGOs in Doha. But they were forced to react to the agenda of the rich countries and put under unacceptable pressure.

At the last minute a text was produced containing almost everything the US and EU wanted. After two sleepless nights, under massive pressure from the EU and with a number of countries’ delegations having gone home, delegates were forced to make a decision that would affect the lives of billions of people. This is no way to run a multilateral trade system.    


Poor consumers risk losing out in Doha trade deal

AT the WTO Conference, consumers made some gains, but the launch of wide-ranging new trade negotiations is bad news for poorer countries, according to Consumers International (CI), the worldwide federation of consumers groups.

CI said it had campaigned for a pro-consumer, pro-development agreement in Doha, focusing on correcting the bias in existing trade treaties against the needs of poor consumers. ‘This required action on the so-called ‘implementation issues’ rather than on enlarging the WTO’s remit,’ said CI.

‘However, the European Union’s insistence on including competition and investment in the WTO’s work programme - despite pleas from the poorest countries that they do not have the capacity to negotiate such things - flies in the face of demands for a development round to focus on their interests.’