Selected Aspects of International Trade and the World Trade Organization's Doha Round: Overview and Introduction

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International trade is credited with alleviating poverty for hundreds of millions in the world, especially in India and China. (1) However, not all have benefited from it. To illustrate, Africa's share in the world trade has declined since the 1990s, and sub-Saharan countries have been marginalized. The United Nations Development Program reported in 2005 that if Africa could have maintained the share of global export that it had in 1980, its export earnings would have been about $119 billion higher then. (2) The report noted that "the share of world export of sub-Saharan Africa, with 689 million people, is less than one half that of Belgium, with ten million people." (3)

Multilateral trade negotiations are always complex and never easy to conclude. The current "Doha Round," formally called the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), was launched with high expectations in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar, after the failed Ministerial Meeting in Seattle in 1999. Conceived as a development round, it was scheduled to be concluded in 2005 and is still awaiting completion. The Director General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, had earlier suspended the Doha Round Talks in July 2006 following a meeting of the principal negotiating countries--the United States, the European Community, Japan, Austria, Brazil, and India--as no agreement could be reached on agricultural issues--both subsidies and tariff and quota protections--which remain the most contentious during this round.

Two years later, Lamy convened a meeting of the world trade minister in Geneva the week of July 21, 2008, "to bridge gaps in your positions," and in the belief that "the chances are reaching agreement this month are better than 50 percent." (4) On July 4, in an open memorandum to the trade ministers, he said:

   The coming weeks represent the moment of truth for the Doha Round.
   If we are to conclude the Doha Round, we must strike a deal this
   month on trade in agriculture and industrial goods, provide clear
   signals on opening services markets and clear the decks on the
   remaining issues. (5)

To the ministers "from our poorest and weakest members," his message was: "You know this agreement will create new opportunities in the global marketplace and, coupled with an effective Aid for Trade package, could transform entire sections of your economy." (6) Subsequently, in opening the meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee on July 21, 2008, Lamy said that for the action to conclude the Doha Round by the end of 2008 he could think of "no stronger spur.., than the threats which are facing the world community across several fronts, including rises in food prices and energy prices and financial market turbulences." He added, "There is widespread recognition that a balanced outcome of the Doha Round could in these circumstances could provide a strong push to stimulate economic growth, providing better prospects for development and ensuring a stable and more predictable trading system." (7)


There was a broad consensus in the 1980s that the weakness of the GATT must be corrected for the functioning of a viable multilateral trading system. The Uruguay Round negotiations were launched in September 1986, which were contemplated to last four years, but the Round was eventually signed in April 1994. The outcome was a most comprehensive trade agreement. Its success included the establishment of a framework of rules and commitments. It further reduced tariffs, opened up new markets and expanded the GATT reach by bringing under multilateral trade rules trade related to services, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, investment, and intellectual property, and by extending some multilateral disciplines to textile and clothing and agricultural issues. Its crowning achievement, however, has to be the creation of a new institution, the World Trade Organization, as the successor to GATT, which indeed heralded the transformation of the new international trading system. …