doha photo



The Doha Ministerial: culmination of a two-year process


Preparation for the Doha Ministerial Conference began in January 2000, shortly after the unsuccessful 3rd Ministerial Conference held in Seattle in December 1999.

Director-General Mike Moore and 1999 General Council Chairman Ali Mchumo unveiled for member governments a four point plan of confidence building measures designed to get the organization back on its feet and functioning again. The measures included:

  • Specific initiatives to assist least-developed countries (LDCs), including a call for greater market access.
  • A special mechanism for discussing and negotiating implementation issues
  • A comprehensive examination of technical cooperation and capacity building activities
  • Procedures for ensuring more active and effective participation of all member governments in the WTO

Each of these four measures has proven successful. On the question of the LDCs, 29 countries have committed themselves to further opening their markets to exports from LDCs. The General Council also agreed to establish an Implementation Review Mechanism, through special sessions of the Council, which has met regularly in formal and informal mode to discuss and negotiate implementation issues. (See implementation press brief).

The Director-General has led a comprehensive review of technical cooperation and capacity building which, though still in progress, has already resulted in greater efficiency. Moreover, Mr. Moore has worked with heads of other organizations to strengthen the Integrated Framework of technical assistance for Least Developed Countries. The six organizations involved in the Integrated Framework are the World Trade Organization, UNCTAD, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Programme and the International Trade Centre.

On the question of more effective participation among member governments, 2000 General Council Chairman Kare Bryn of Norway and 2001 Chairman Stuart Harbinson of Hong Kong, China have instituted a system of frequent open-ended and informal heads of delegation meetings, complemented with consultations in other formats. The objective of this sort of system is to meet regularly to consult with and inform all members of WTO activities across a broad spectrum of consultations.

January 2000 also marked the launch of mandated negotiations in the areas of agriculture and services. These two-sectors of economic activity account for roughly two thirds of global output and about the same fraction of global employment. Negotiations in these sectors have advanced well to this point with 121 member governments submitting proposals in agriculture and 50 governments submitting proposals in services. Although serious bargaining aimed at securing concessions has not yet started, many member governments have said they are pleased with the progress to date.

As those negotiations proceeded, members began preparing in early 2001 for the WTO’s 4th Ministerial Conference. The organization is mandated by the terms of the Marrakesh Agreement to hold its conference every two years.

On 8 February 2001, the General Council, which is the WTO’s day-to-day governing body, agreed to accept an offer by the government of Qatar to host the conference. The General Council Chairman and the Director-General received from the Council, a mandate to work with members on formulating organizational and issue-related aspects of the preparation for the meeting.

General Council Chairman Stuart Harbinson, offered members a checklist on 20 April 2001of possible subjects for inclusion in the discussions. Member governments accepted this checklist as the basis for future work. Since April, the Chairman and the Director-General have held hundreds of consultations with delegations in a variety of formats ranging from heads of delegation meetings to one-on-one discussions. The approach has won praise from member governments, particularly developing country members, for its openness, transparency and efficiency.

Chairman Harbinson and Director-General Moore have established a “bottom-up” approach to the process by encouraging a proponent driven system where those in favour of including certain topics on the agenda would meet in an effort to raise support for their positions. WTO member governments held a series of meetings outside the formal General Council process to test levels of support on a range of issues which included non-agricultural market access, investment, competition, environment, fisheries subsidies and reform of the Dispute Settlement Understanding.

These sessions served as a method of producing inputs to Chairman Harbinson’s process.

During the first half of 2001, Director-General Moore met regularly with trade ministers and urged them to work more intensively to bridge differences between positions. He stressed to them the importance of avoiding a failure at Doha.

On 24 July 2001, Chairman Harbinson and Director-General Moore released a report on the state of play regarding the negotiations. This report, which the Director-General referred to as a “reality check” offered a sobering assessment of the situation as it stood then. The General Council met on 30-31 July and debated the way to move beyond what virtually all members considered to be an impasse. In speaking to the General Council, Mr. Moore warned that “the situation is fragile, and without generosity, good manners and good will, the process could implode and become unmanageable. Unless the reality we now see is taken to heart and acted upon, the passage of time will change the reality for the worse, and the process could become unmanageable.”

At the end of July meeting there was a general acknowledgement that progress on the implementation issue was essential to moving the process forward. Chairman Harbinson told member governments that it was essential to use the August break to examine positions and to prepare for intensive consultations during the stretch run to Doha.

Returning to work on 4 September, the General Council heard from Chairman Harbinson that delegations could not expect Ministers to arrive in Doha with all issues still unresolved. The strategy of leaving all issues to be settled by ministers had failed at Seattle, he said, and could not be expected to work in Doha.

Throughout September, Chairman Harbinson held intensive consultations with delegations in a wide array of formats, in a bid to uncover bottom-line or at least more compatible positions.

What’s the difference …
… between the preparations for Seattle and Doha?

Pre-Seattle 19 October 1999
The draft declaration was 34 pages long and contained 402 pairs of square brackets, 11.8 pairs per page.

Pre-Doha 26 September 2001
> The draft declaration is 9 pages long and contains 6 pairs of square brackets.
> The draft implementation decision is 11 pages long and contains 7 pairs of square brackets.
> Together, that’s 20 pages and 13 pairs of square brackets.

On 26 September the Chairman and the Director-General released to members two documents, one a draft Ministerial Declaration and the other a draft decision on implementation related issues and concerns. The Chairman stressed that no portion of either text was agreed and that no element of either could be considered agreed until all elements were agreed. The texts represented the best judgement of the two men on “what the market could bear” in terms of an outline for a future work programme.

In parallel with Chairman Harbinson’s efforts, the Director-General maintained close contact with ministers. During the last several months, the Director-General has met face to face with more than 100 ministers whom he encouraged to show the necessary flexibility to ensure that the Ministerial Conference would be completed successfully.

Throughout October, Chairman Harbinson held informal open-ended heads of delegation meetings on implementation issues and the issues contained in the draft Ministerial Declaration. Members accepted both documents as the basis for negotiation, while stressing that there were elements in each document to which they were less than favourably inclined.

The process succeeded in narrowing differences, but ultimately differences between members governments have remained. On certain key issues, it is clear that resolution can only come at the Ministerial Conference itself.

WTO ministerial conferences
Officially, this meeting is the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference. The ministerial conference is the organization’s highest-level decision-making body. It meets “at least once every two years”, as required by the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the World Trade Organization — the WTO’s founding charter.

The Doha Ministerial will be the fourth since the WTO was created on 1 January 1995:
Singapore 9–13 Dec. 1996
Geneva 18 & 20 May 1998
>Seattle 30 Nov–3 Dec.1999
> Doha 9-13 November 2001