The 1999 Seattle Ministerial Conference had failed to launch a round of global negotiations for setting new trade rules. This had raised questions as to the viability of an organization charged with overseeing a global system involving so many players and so many issues. The fact that all decisions in the
organization are taken on the basis of consensus led to doubts about the
WTO ministerial conferences
Officially, this meeting is the Fifth 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 Cancún ministerial will be the fifth since
the WTO was created on 1 January 1995.
9—13 December 1996
Geneva: 18 and 20 May 1998
November—3 December 1999
9—13 November 2001
10—14 September 2003
But the breakthrough conference in Doha eased a great many of those fears. The launch of the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) negotiations at that conference, bolstered confidence around the world in the WTO and its trading system. This was particularly felt in the developing countries, which see greater market access for their products as one of the key tools for achieving development objectives. Moreover, at a time of economic and political uncertainty, ministers from what was then a membership of 142 governments, underscored that global problems can be addressed through a multilateral framework.
The Doha mandate back to top
In agreeing to launch a “broad and balanced” work programme with development at its core, ministers in Doha directed their officials in Geneva to undertake a series of negotiations and to address a variety of other concerns through work in various WTO councils and committees.
This programme of work was spelt out in two declarations
— a main declaration and one on intellectual property (TRIPS) and public health
— and one decision on implementation. Implementation matters refer to the difficulties faced in many developing countries in putting current WTO agreements into place.
The main declaration spelled out a series of negotiating objectives and intermediate deadlines and
mandated 1 January 2005 as the date for completing the Doha Development Agenda. Among the issues
included for negotiations (details can be found in the other briefing notes in this pack) are agriculture,
services, industrial tariffs, implementation, environment and some areas of intellectual property. Ministers agreed as well, that further negotiations would be possible in other areas including trade and investment, some other aspects of implementation and environment, competition policy, trade facilitation and
transparency in government procurement.
Although not part of the “single
undertaking” or interconnected negotiations, a reform of the Dispute Settlement Understanding (the WTO agreement covering dispute settlement) was also agreed by
ministers. Ministers set a target date of 31 May 2003 for completing this reform. Work in this area was not completed and ministers in Cancún are expected to provide guidance on how these reform efforts should be pursued.
Ministers committed themselves to addressing “the particular vulnerability of least-developed countries and the special structural difficulties they face in the global
economy” and agreed to a series of items in the declaration which dealt specifically with these concerns.
As part of this effort, ministers urged development
partners to “significantly” increase their contributions to WTO technical
assistance and capacity programmes for least-developed countries, and
threw their support behind the Integrated Framework for Trade-Related
Technical Assistance to Least-Developed Countries (IF). (The partner organizations
in the Integrated Framework are the WTO, the
World Bank, the International
Monetary Fund, the
UN Conference on Trade and Development, the
UN Development Programme and the
International Trade Centre.)
Ministers further instructed the WTO Director-General to
coordinate Integrated Framework activities with the five other partner international organizations and to report to the Fifth Ministerial Conference in Cancún on technical assistance efforts and all other issues affecting least-developed countries.
Ministers agreed that this Fifth Ministerial Conference would
“take stock of progress in the negotiations, provide any necessary political guidance and take decisions as
necessary.” To oversee the conduct of the negotiations themselves, the Doha Declaration established the Trade Negotiations Committee, under the authority of the General Council, which was charged with monitoring the negotiations and devising the procedures and guidelines for these talks.
Since then ... back to top
In January 2002, WTO member governments assembled for the first meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) and agreed on the structure of the negotiations launched at Doha. They elected the WTO Director-General
ex officio to chair the committee.
The Trade Negotiations Committee established seven negotiating bodies, on agriculture, services, non-agricultural market access, rules, trade and environment, a multilateral register for geographical
indications for wines and spirits, and reform of the Dispute Settlement Understanding.
Since the Trade Negotiations Committee’s first meeting, negotiations on agriculture, services,
environment, intellectual property, and the Dispute Settlement Understanding have been conducted in
“Special Sessions” of the regular committees and councils where these issues are discussed. New negotiating groups were created for non-agricultural market access and rules. The Trade Negotiations Committee and all other negotiating bodies and groups operate under the authority of the General Council, as
mandated by ministers in Doha. Chairpersons for the other negotiating bodies and groups were selected from WTO delegations based in Geneva.
A sixth Special Session, this one of the Trade and Development Committee, was also established to
examine questions related to special and differential treatment of developing countries. The precise status of this group as a negotiating body was not formally agreed by member governments. Nonetheless, the Special Session of the Trade and Development Committee conducted detailed
on-going work on the question of special and differential treatment, and the Chairman of this Special Session reported often to the Trade Negotiations Committee, along with the other seven chairs, although the chairman said these reports were
“without prejudice to the position of any member on the nature of the Special Session of the Committee on Trade and
Work on special and differential treatment was taken up directly by the General Council in February 2003.
Procedures established by member governments in 2002 mandated that negotiations conducted in the Trade Negotiations Committee and the other negotiating bodies be carried out in a transparent manner in line with the best practices established in the General Council and other bodies. The Chairman of the Trade Negotiations Committee and the chairs of the other negotiating bodies were instructed to report to the General Council on their work. The Trade Negotiations Committee was also given the responsibility of monitoring the calendar of meetings to ensure that, as far as possible, only one negotiating body meets at a time. The General Council also mandated that minutes of meetings be circulated as quickly as
possible, in all three official WTO languages, to ensure delegations and capitals are fully informed of all
developments related to the negotiations.