What next for the Doha round?

The Doha round of world trade talks were dealt a fresh blow on Tuesday when it became clear that even a mini-deal would not be agreed this year.

Started in November 2001, as the ninth round of multilateral trade negotiations, the Doha talks have progressed slowly with periodic crises and numerous missed deadlines. Earlier this year, Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization, proposed to segment the negotiations into three categories of progressive difficulty, with the aim of reaching an agreement by December on an “early harvest” of development-related trade reforms.

But WTO members said on Tuesday that such an agreement would not be possible, owing to ongoing differences amongst key players about what a mini-deal should cover. December’s WTO Ministerial Conference is now anticipated to focus on issues outside the scope Doha talks and on how to proceed with the Round in 2012.

Some commentators have already started to suggest that the December Ministerial may be the moment when the Round is finally declared dead. This, in our view, remains unlikely—after all, would any government want to carry the can for killing the talks?

But that shouldn’t be read to suggest that December’s Ministerial will be inconsequential. As Stephen Pattison has pointed out in a recent blog post, the key is to develop a complimentary agenda to restore fully the credibility and centrality of the WTO as a forum for establishing the rules governing world trade. That could mean new plurilateral negotiations—on issues such as investment and e-business—being negotiated by coalitions of the willing alongside the Doha talks. What’s more, an enhanced monitoring role for the WTO could help keen in check trade protectionism.

If something along these lines could be agreed, the December Ministerial could represent a landmark moment for WTO-led trade liberalisation. This is a message we will be pressing at the highest levels in the coming weeks, both in the UK and internationally.  

For further information—or for press briefings—please contact Andrew Wilson (awilson@international-chamber.co.uk).