IMPLEMENTATION Progress made but some difficult issues remain

Concerns related to the issue of implementation of existing WTO agreements have been expressed by some developing countries for many years.

The issue is complex and not easily definable. The implementation issues before member governments run across the spectrum of the WTO agreements, covering areas such as market access, balance of payments, trade-related investment measures, trade-related intellectual property rights, customs valuation, safeguards, agriculture and services.

Developing countries’ difficulties in implementing WTO accords are also rooted in a series of different factors, as well. In some cases, developing countries have raised implementation issues as means of addressing perceived inadequacies and inequities in the WTO agreements, including the timeframes in which developing countries were to have implemented the accords into national laws, regulations and practices. In other areas, implementation problems are linked to severe financial and institution capacity constraints which prevent developing country governments from adapting regulations, laws and practices so that they are in compliance with WTO rules. In other instances, the problems involve political sensitivities at home that have hindered implementation of the rules agreed as part of the 1994 Uruguay Round agreement that established the WTO.

Those countries which have taken a more cautious approach on implementation-related concerns argue that significant adaptation of the rules cannot be undertaken without mandated negotiations.


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Singapore 1996, Geneva 1998, Seattle 1999

Ministers meeting in Singapore for the first WTO Ministerial Conference in 1996 noted: “Implementation thus far has been generally satisfactory, although some members have expressed dissatisfaction with certain aspects. It is clear that further effort in this area is required, as indicated by the relevant WTO bodies in their reports.”

At the WTO’s second Ministerial Conference in Geneva in 1998, a significant number of governments raised the matter and since that meeting the issue has regularly been on the agenda of the General Council and its subsidiary bodies.

Prior to the Seattle Ministerial Conference in 1999, implementation was a very important issue on the negotiating agenda for developing countries. Disagreement between developed and developing country governments on negotiating these issues was among the principal reasons behind the failure of the Seattle conference. Negotiators have worked hard on this matter since then and have made considerable progress in dealing with the issue.

After the Seattle meeting, there was wide recognition among WTO member governments of the need to address the issue and delegations agreed in 2000 to establish dedicated sessions of the General Council to deal specifically with implementation related issues.

Since before Seattle, more than 100 implementation proposals have been made by WTO Member Governments, nearly all of which were from developing countries.


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Doha 2001: some resolved

At the fourth Ministerial Conference in Doha in 2001, ministers resolved certain implementation concerns immediately and charged specific WTO bodies with addressing others in several different ways. These actions addressed nearly half of the issues that had been raised before Seattle.

The Ministers agreed that the remaining issues should be dealt with through negotiations which were mandated as part of the launch of the Doha Development Agenda round of global trade negotiations, through discussions in subsidiary bodies which would be reviewed by the Trade Negotiating Committee (which oversees the seven formal negotiating groups and the negotiations that have transpired in the Committee on Trade and Development).

In Paragraph 12 of the Doha Ministerial Declaration, ministers stated: “We shall proceed as follows: (a) where we provide a specific negotiating mandate in this Declaration, the relevant implementation issues shall be address under that mandate; (b) the other outstanding implementation issues shall be addressed as a matter of priority by the relevant WTO bodies, which shall report to the Trade Negotiations Committee … by the end of 2002 for appropriate action.”


Since then …

This complex implementation picture has been further complicated by disagreements among member governments as to the meaning of appropriate action, as it is spelled out in Paragraph 12 (b). Some delegations suggest that appropriate action means agreement to the proposals, some suggest that it means the proposals should be the subject of negotiations, while others question whether there is a mandate to conduct negotiations on these proposals at all.

In an effort to make progress on the remaining 23 issues, the chairperson of the Trade Negotiations Committee, WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, suggested in December 2002 that delegations consider five approaches to addressing these issues. Director-General Supachai proposed that governments deal with the issues in one of the following ways:

  1. resolving the issue
  2. agreeing that no further action is needed on the issue
  3. referring the issue to a negotiating body
  4. continuing work in the relevant subsidiary body under enhanced supervision by the Trade Negotiations Committee and with a clear deadline, or
  5. undertaking work at the level of the Trade Negotiations Committee.

While significant progress has been made in addressing the implementation issues before WTO bodies, some difficult issues remain. There are currently 23 issues which are now before the Trade Negotiations Committee covering issues including balance of payments, customs valuation, market access, safeguards, technical barriers to trade, trade-related investment measures and trade-related intellectual property. The political sensitivity of many of these matters has made resolving them an often difficult exercise.