WTO Agreements in Doha Could Help Fight Poverty and Promote Sustainable
15 November 2001With the global economy mired in the doldrums, the
decision by the 142 member countries of the World Trade Organization in Doha,
Qatar to hold negotiations on removing trade barriers and promoting trade and
investment in developing countries could provide a significant boost to efforts
to fight poverty and protect the environment.
In addition to an agreement calling for negotiations on a range of key trade
issues, the ministers attending the WTO talks joined in a declaration stating
that governments had the right to deal with health problems despite any
language to the contrary in the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights, instruments governing the use of intellectual
property. This agreement could pave the way for developing countries to obtain
generic versions of patented drugs far more cheaply to combat diseases such as
AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the agreement and said he
hopes the new negotiations will lead to a true "development round"
that removes trade barriers to developing country goods, opens market
opportunities and helps developing countries build up the capacity to take
advantage of those opportunities.
The WTO agreement spells out a programme of work through 2005, and
significantly, calls for negotiations aimed at phasing out subsidies for
agricultural products. Developing countries have maintained that high levels of
subsidies for farmers in developed countries have effectively blocked their
exports from competing in those markets. The World Bank estimates that at
present, agricultural subsidies in developed countries amount to $1 billion a
day, and elimination of those subsidies would benefit developing countries to
the tune of $1.5 trillion a year.
Negotiations will also be held to improve the market access of non-agricultural
products by reducing or eliminating tariffs. The ministers agreed that the new
round of talks must result in developing countries receiving preferential
treatment. In addition, countries will take up other issues, such as
"anti-dumping" laws that developed countries have used to prop up
their own industries.
World Bank President James Wolfensohn told the WTO that World Bank research
suggests that the elimination of remaining barriers to trade in goods could
reduce the number of poor in developing countries by 300 million in 2015.
According to some estimates, the new agreements could lead to the disappearance
of as much as $700 billion in tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies, possibly
generating $2.8 trillion in global economic activity by 2015.
Developing countries, however, entered the negotiations extremely wary of
launching a new round of negotiations, contending that developed countries have
not kept their side of the bargain under the previous rounds to open their
markets to certain goods, such as textiles and apparel, from developing
Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Murasoli Maran, said, "We cannot
be held hostage to unreasonable demands that concessions be made for carrying
forward what are already mandated negotiations. Nor can one accept the argument
that there is mandate only for commencing certain negotiations and not for
Maran added that India was firmly opposed to any effort to link trade and
labour or environmental standards. "We consider them as Trojan horses of
But developing countries did win several important concessions. In addition to
the drug patent issue, the European Union was granted permission to provide
preferential tariff concessions to 77 developing countries in Africa, the
Caribbean and the Pacific. Traditionally, the EU imported goods from these
countries at preferential rates, but under WTO rules, the practice was ended,
leading to sharp disputes. Countries in the Caribbean, for example, found
themselves unable to compete in the banana market with the larger plantations
found in Latin America, without such preferential treatment.
The WTO also expanded its membership at the Doha meeting, approving the
applications of China and Chinese Taipei. There are 28 countries currently
seeking admission to the WTO.
Calling the present downturn in the global economy "deeper, more
widespread and more resilient than anticipated," United Nations
Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Nitin Desai, said the
"clear and universal commitment to a new round of trade negotiations at
Doha should immediately bolster confidence in international trade and in the
international trading system."
The ministers agreed that they "strongly reaffirm" their commitment
to the objective of sustainable development, and stated that they remained
convinced that an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system,
environmental protection, and the promotion of sustainable development can be
mutually supportive. They also stressed that no country should be prevented
from taking measures to protect the environment or to save lives, as long as
they were not protectionist measures in disguise.
The ministers also urged greater cooperation between the WTO and international
environment and development organizations in the process leading up to the
World Summit on Sustainable Development that will take place in Johannesburg
Alexander Erwin, South African Minister of Trade and Industry, told the WTO
that while it was agreed that there was a link between trade, development and
the environment, the linkages were complex and the issues went beyond the
competence of the WTO. He said such issues were better left for the
"We will have an opportunity for locating this dialogue in the broader
conceptual framework of 'sustainable development' at the World Summit on
Sustainable Development that South Africa will host next year. For South
Africa, the Summit should be an occasion for going beyond the review of the
implementation of Agenda 21 to address issues of global inequality and high
levels of poverty."
European Union Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy said Doha represented only
the first stop of "a virtuous sequence that I have dubbed D-M-J." He
said "First stop: Doha, for the Round. Next stop: Monterrey for improved
development finance. Third stop: Johannesburg for sustainability. Particularly
in the post-11 September environment, we need to use all the multilateral tools
at our disposal if we are to make real progress toward sustainable
There was criticism of the new agreement. Friends of the Earth International
called the new work programme of the WTO was "a disaster for sustainable
development," even though governments agreed to advance discussions on
trade and environment. Claiming that previous trade liberalization had led to
considerable environmental degradation, they said the recent agreement was
ambiguous, narrow and could pose a threat to environmental regulations.
Alexandra Wandel of FOEI said "Governments came here with a
pro-liberalisation agenda that is no longer popular. They have failed again to
achieve the joined up global thinking that the world so desperately needs.
There must be a complete overhaul of the trading system to make it sustainable,
fair and democratic."
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Department of Economic and
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24 August 2006