|Never again: nobody will be meeting to discuss Doha anymore.|
The World Trade Organisation is facing the biggest shake-up of its agenda in a generation after its members in effect abandoned the long-stalled Doha round. For the first time since the round was launched amid great fanfare in 2001, the WTO’s 164 members, ending a conference in Nairobi at the weekend, declined to “reaffirm” Doha’s mandate.They also opened the door to discussing new issues and focusing more on delivering smaller packages of trade reforms. Agreements included a global ban on farming export subsidies that Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO’s director-general, called the “most significant” achievement on agriculture in the organisation’s history. The new line in Nairobi, said one senior trade official, amounted to “the death of Doha and the birth of a new WTO”.
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 econom. Instead of aiming to complete these vast, cross-cutting rounds like before, the WTO is moving towards more tractable issue-focused negotiations, which probably makes more sense in this day and age when there are so many different parties with differing interests. Moreover, delegates the world over tired of meeting on something which became moribund quite some time ago:
The mistake globophobes make it to assume that because the Doha Round is dead, so is the WTO. Actually, it's just attempts to push through vast, broadly inclusive trade rounds that's over, not the WTO which is actually moving forward on sectoral interests such as the Information Technology Agreement (ITA). Whatever you think of it, the WTO goes on after Doha.Doha was launched in 2001, two months after the September 11 attacks, with much rhetoric about gestures of global unity but too little support from businesses to keep it going. It was also oversold as a “development round”, with the aim of helping poorer countries trade their way out of poverty, with a particular focus on agriculture.Three problems rapidly became evident. One, behind the mask of solidarity between developing countries lay deep divisions, for example between agricultural net importers and exporters, preventing constructive proposals for liberalisation. Two, countries such as China transformed beyond recognition during the round, becoming global export powerhouses yet continuing to plead developing country status. Three, the US in particular proved to be largely spineless in taking on its own farm lobby, which demanded improbable amounts of market access abroad in return for subsidy cuts at home.