The Doha Round texts — introduction

These are the principal documents agreed by WTO member governments at important stages in the trade negotiations that were launched by the Doha Ministerial Conference in November 2001.

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The talks are nicknamed the Doha Round after the city where they were launched even though they mainly take place in Geneva. They are also called the Doha Development Agenda, partly to emphasize that development is a main objective, and partly to underscore that negotiations are one half of the work programme — the other half deals with problems that developing countries face in the implementation of the present agreements.

The negotiations proper are described as a “single undertaking”. This means they form a single package of about 20 subjects, to be signed by each country with a single signature without any option to pick and choose between different subjects.

However, also reproduced here are some major decisions that follow on from the original Doha declarations, even though they are not part of the Doha Round and its “single undertaking”.

Until the Doha Round concludes, this collection remains work in progress.

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Before Doha  

The compromise deal struck in the 1986–94 Uruguay Round included commitments to continue the reforms agreed in the round, in three subjects. The first to take effect was Article 23.4 of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which said members would negotiate creating a multilateral register for geographical indications for wines. Later spirits were added, and work began in 1997.

Of broader interest were negotiations in agriculture and services. These resumed in 2000, as agreed in Article 20 of the Agriculture Agreement and Article 19 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services. In 2001, members agreed guidelines and procedures for the services negotiations, considered an important step in the talks.

Meanwhile, in 2000, the General Council adopted a decision on a number of issues arising from the implementation of the WTO’s present agreements.

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Doha 2001  

The 9–13 November 2001 Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, was the fourth meeting of the WTO’s topmost decision-making body. The declarations that WTO members adopted in Doha set up a work programme, the Doha Development Agenda, which includes trade negotiations (the Doha Round) and the issues arising from the implementation of the existing agreements.

In Doha, ministers also decided to postpone the deadline for some developing countries to eliminate export subsidies and for least-developed countries to provide protection for pharmaceutical patents and test data, and to tackle problems faced by countries unable to make generic versions of patented medicines. Detailed texts were needed to put these into practice. The one on subsidies was adopted by the Subsidies Committee during the Doha Ministerial Conference. Others came later.

The original aim was to reach agreement on almost all subjects in the negotiation by 1 January 2005. The only exceptions were the negotiation on improving and clarifying the Dispute Settlement Understanding (with a deadline of 31 May 2003 and technically not part of the “single undertaking”) and the negotiations on a registration system for geographical indications for wines and spirits (with a deadline of the Fifth Ministerial Conference in 2003). Those deadlines were missed and the dates are now history.

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The Doha Round after Doha  

Because they are complex, the negotiations have progressed in stages, each stage narrowing down differences through interim agreements that represent the “acquis” — what has been acquired or achieved so far. The starting point was the Doha Declaration, which had set broad objectives for the round, reflecting the membership’s divergent positions. The task of the negotiations was to find common ground and ultimately consensus.

Geneva 2003 The first major agreement in the Doha Round after the Doha Ministerial Conference was on special treatment in services for least-developed countries.

Geneva 2004 The General Council’s decision of 1 August 2004 narrowed the gaps, focused the negotiations and raised them to a new level. This “July [2004] Package” decision included a number of annexes. Two of them are “Frameworks” for the negotiations in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, a term that is sometimes used for the entire package. (The 2004 decision sorted out disagreements that caused the 10–14 September 2003 Cancún Ministerial Conference to end in deadlock.)

Hong Kong 2005 The next major agreement was the declaration from the 13–18 December 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial Conference, which locked in a further narrowing of differences in the negotiations.

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TRIPS and health  

Meanwhile, in Doha but not part of the Doha Round, ministers included political statements, practical commitments and important clarifications in the main Doha Declaration and in a separate declaration on intellectual property and public health.

This led to decisions in 2002 to postpone (until 2016) the deadline for least-developed countries to protect pharmaceutical patents and test data, and in 2003 and 2005 on making it easier for countries to obtain cheaper generics produced elsewhere under compulsory licensing when they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves.

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And next?  

The next step will be agreement on “modalities” — the way or method of doing something. In the Doha Development Agenda negotiations these are blueprints for the final deal, eg, how to cut tariffs, and reduce agricultural subsidies and support, along with flexibilities to deal with various sensitivities.

Once the modalities have been settled, countries will apply the formulas to tariffs on thousands of products and to a range of support programmes. Added to that will be pledges on how open their markets will be for services. The result will be the “schedules of commitments”, which will take up tens of thousands of pages of the final deal. And also in the final deal will be new or revised agreements, the WTO’s rule book.