WTO Doha Round Update
This update summarises key WTO Doha Round-related activities and developments.
WTO’s Eighth Ministerial Conference
The WTO’s Eighth Ministerial Conference (MC8) was held in Geneva from 15 to 17 December 2011. The Ministerial Conference is the highest decision-making body of the WTO and Ministers from most of the WTO’s member States attended, including Dr Emerson, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Policy.
At MC8, Ministers emphasised the value of the rules-based multilateral trading system and agreed to make it more responsive to the needs of Members, especially in the current global economic environment. They reaffirmed the vital role of the WTO in governing global trade. The Chairman’s Concluding Statement provides an overview of the key issues discussed.
Dr Emerson addressed the MC8 Plenary Session on 15 December 2011. He advocated for MC8 to deliver a strong message against protectionism. He also continued to advocate for considering new pathways to take the Doha Round forward, including to ensure we deliver benefits to the world’s poorest countries. More detail on outcomes at MC8 follows:
More than 50 countries, representing 70 per cent of world GDP, joined Australia in making a Pledge against Protectionism. The Pledge called, in the strongest terms, to fight all forms of protectionism. The 50 countries committed to refrain from raising new barriers to trade in goods and services, imposing new export restrictions, or implementing WTO-inconsistent measures in all areas including those that stimulate exports. Countries further committed to take steps to roll back any protectionist measures introduced since the start of the global financial crisis in 2008.
Taking the Doha Round forward
Ministers, however, recognised that the Round was at an impasse and that it was unlikely that all elements of the Round could be concluded simultaneously in the near future. Australia was pleased Ministers reiterated their commitment to a successful conclusion to the Doha Round and acknowledged the need to explore different negotiating approaches while respecting the principles of transparency and inclusiveness.
Australia was encouraged by the broad support for considering new pathways for the Round. This included breaking the negotiations into smaller, more manageable components, attempting to reach early agreement where achievable and thinking of new innovative pathways to deal with more intractable issues.
Australian commitment to helping developing and least developed countries
At MC8 Dr Emerson reiterated the Prime Minister’s pledge, made during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October 2011, that Australia would continue to provide duty-free and quota-free market access for imports from least developed countries (LDCs) and urged other countries to do the same.
Dr Emerson also announced, jointly with former Foreign Minister Rudd, a new $16 million package of Australian assistance to help developing countries and LDCs benefit from global trade, including in key areas such as trade development, trade policy and building productive capacity.
The package comprised multi-year funding for the WTO Global Trust Fund, the Enhanced Integrated Framework, and the International Trade Centre, and a contribution to the World Intellectual Property Organization. More details on this assistance can be found on the department’s Trade and Development page.
In the final MC8 session, Ministers adopted a number of decisions on intellectual property, electronic commerce, small economies, least developed countries’ accession, a services waiver for least developed countries, and trade policy reviews. These decisions help strengthen the WTO institutionally and benefit LDCs in particular. More detail on these decisions can be found on the WTO’s website.
Least Developed Country (LDC) Accessions
MC8 reaffirmed development as a core element of the WTO agenda and Ministers gave considerable attention to what could be achieved to address the needs of least developed countries and developing countries.
The WTO already had a number of provisions aimed specifically at developing countries, including special and differential treatment arrangements. However, several further Ministerial Commitments for LDCs were made at MC8, including:
- agreement to strengthen and enhance the existing LDC accession guidelines;
- endorsement of an LDC services waiver to enable preferential treatment to services and service suppliers of LDCs; and
- reaffirmation of the importance of the existing Small Economies work programme of the Committee on Trade and Development.
In addition, Ministers acknowledged the importance of expediting efforts to address cotton and duty-free quota-free access for LDCs. Trade facilitation was also recognised as an area where progress was achievable.
Since MC8, the WTO Membership has continued to pursue outcomes in these areas.
Trade facilitation refers to the simplification and harmonisation of international trade procedures to assist the movement of goods. For example, customs, licensing and transit formalities are all areas which involve complicated administrative processes and burdensome documentation requirements. Businesses currently suffer significant losses as the result of these complicated, and sometimes unnecessary, procedures. In recognition of the costs imposed on business because of 'red tape', trade facilitation was added to the WTO agenda in December 1996. Actual negotiations on trade facilitation were launched in 2004.
The negotiations have made good progress and WTO Members have submitted proposals covering all aspects of the mandate. Special and differential treatment and provision of technical assistance and capacity building for developing and least-developed countries have been highlighted as key elements of the negotiations. Trade facilitation negotiations have continued through the Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation, which is following a work programme set in January 2012.
Australia is jointly leading, with the United States, discussions in Geneva on a services plurilateral initiative, aimed at developing a new path to global services trade reform, which is consistent with WTO rules and the objectives of the Doha Round negotiating agenda. Given the vital role of services in economic growth and development, it is important we make progress in this area.
Australia chaired the fifth round of discussions in Geneva on 2-3 October 2012. The discussions now include 20 services reform-minded WTO members (Australia, Canada, Chile, Chinese Taipei, Colombia, Costa Rica, European Union, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States). These economies collectively account for over 70 per cent of world trade in commercial services and 70 per cent of world GDP.