Doha Round: what are they negotiating?

The WTO’s work is to help trade flow more smoothly and predictably, for the benefit of all. The work is two-pronged: lowering trade barriers where they can be lowered, and writing rules for maintaining trade barriers and for other trade policies. Both are the result of rounds of negotiations among governments since the 1940s.

The Doha Round continues that tradition. It’s the ninth round since the Second World War and the first since the WTO inherited the multilateral trading system in 1995. It aims to produce the first major overhaul of the system in the 21st Century.

All WTO member governments — currently 157 — participate. The talks are complex, with a broad array of subjects, and widely differing interests, even within countries.

Binding the complexity together are two key principles: decisions are by consensus, which means everyone has to be persuaded before any deal can be struck, and “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”, sometimes called the “single undertaking”.

What have the negotiations achieved so far?

The achievements of the negotiations are reflected in two ways:

  • Agreed texts (the “acquis”, what has been acquired) — the 2001 Doha Declaration set the broad objectives; the 2004 Frameworks narrowed down differences in interpreting the broad objectives and defined the shape of the final agreements, particularly in agriculture and non-agricultural market access; the 2005 Hong Kong Declaration narrowed the gaps further.

> Doha Round so far: the story through the agreed documents

  • Chairs’ drafts — although these have not been agreed, they drew on members’ inputs in numerous meetings, and in many cases contain a considerable amount of detail now described as “stable”. This means much of these texts is almost agreed. A small number of issues still need to be resolved, but they are politically difficult, which is why they are still unsettled. This is particularly true of the latest (December 2008) drafts in agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

The subjects

  • Agriculture
    The aim: More market access, eliminating export subsidies, reducing distorting domestic support, sorting out a range of developing country issues, and dealing with non-trade concerns such as food security and rural development.

> See Briefing note
> More on agriculture negotiations

  • Non-agricultural market access (NAMA)
    The aim: “To reduce or as appropriate eliminate tariffs, including the reduction or elimination of high tariffs, tariff peaks and tariff escalation (higher tariffs protecting processing, lower tariffs on raw materials) as well as non-tariff barriers, in particular on products of export interest to developing countries”.

> See Briefing note
> More on NAMA negotiations

  • Services
    The aim: To improve market access and to strengthen the rules. Each government has the right to decide which sectors it wants to open to foreign companies and to what extent, including any restrictions on foreign ownership. Unlike in agriculture and NAMA, the services negotiations are not based on a “modalities” text. They are being conducted essentially on two tracks:

    • bilateral and/or plurilateral (involving only some WTO members) negotiations
    • multilateral negotiations among all WTO members to establish any necessary rules and disciplines
      > See Briefing note
      > More on services negotiations
  • Trade facilitation
    The aim: To ease customs procedures and to facilitate the movement, release and clearance of goods. This is an important addition to the overall negotiation since it would cut bureaucracy and corruption in customs procedures and would speed up trade and make it cheaper.

    > See Briefing note
    > More on trade facilitation negotiations

  • Rules
    These cover anti-dumping, subsidies and countervailing measures, fisheries subsidies, and regional trade agreements.
    The aim: “Clarifying and improving disciplines” under the Anti-Dumping and Subsidies agreements; and to “clarify and improve WTO disciplines on fisheries subsidies, taking into account the importance of this sector to developing countries.

    > See Briefing note
    > More on rules negotiations

  • The environment
    These are the first significant negotiations on trade and the environment in the GATT/ WTO. They have two key components:

    • Freer trade in environmental goods. Products that WTO members have proposed include: wind turbines, carbon capture and storage technologies, solar panels.
    • Environmental agreements. Improving collaboration with the secretariats of multilateral environmental agreements and establishing more coherence between trade and environmental rules.

    > See Briefing note
    > More on environment negotiations

  • Geographical indications: multilateral register for wines and spirits
    This is the only intellectual property issue that is definitely part of the Doha negotiations. The objective is to “facilitate” the protection of wines and spirits in participating countries. The talks began in 1997 and were built into the Doha Round in 2001.

    > See Briefing note
    > More on GI negotiations

  • Other intellectual property issues
    Some members want negotiations on two other subjects and to link these to the register for wines and spirits. Other members disagree. These two topics are discussed in consultations chaired by the WTO Director-General (sometimes a deputy):

  • GI “extension”. Extending the higher level of protection for geographical indications beyond wines and spirits

  • Biopiracy, benefit sharing and traditional knowledge

    > See Briefing note
    > More on intellectual property negotiations

  • Dispute settlement
    Aim: To improve and clarify the Dispute Settlement Understanding, the WTO agreement dealing with legal disputes. These negotiations take place in special sessions of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB). Exceptionally, they are not part of the “single undertaking” of the Doha Round.

    > See Briefing note
    > More on dispute settlement negotiations

  • Full list of all topics

Negotiation timeline

Jan 1995
Uruguay Round deal — new WTO: goods, services and intellectual property

Feb/Mar 2000 
Services, agriculture talks launched

Nov 2001   
Doha Round launch

Sept 2003
Cancún Ministerial fails

Aug 2004
Frameworks established

Dec 2005
Hong Kong Ministerial

Jul 2006
Negotiations suspended

Jan 2007
Negotiations resume

Jul 2008
July "package" fails

Dec 2008
Revised drafts issued

Apr 2011
Update documents issued by negotiating chairs

Dec 2012
Negotiating chairs report on latest progress