> Follow the talks
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
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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
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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
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.
The Doha Round after Doha
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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
Geneva 2003 The first major agreement in the Doha Round after the Doha
Ministerial Conference was on special treatment in services for
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  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
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.
TRIPS and health
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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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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.