Article written

  • on 17.12.2015
  • at 06:08 PM
  • by Kimberley Evans

The Nairobi Ministerial: Time to Pull the Plug on the Doha Development Round? 0

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is holding its 10th Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. While a deal promoting the interests of developed countries, known as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA), has been in the making for nearly 15 years, negotiations have been deadlocked.

The irreconcilable differences in positions of WTO members mean that any significant progress to concluding the Doha Round of negotiations is unlikely. After months of deliberations in Geneva, WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo noted in a statement last week that ‘we currently…have no deliverables for Nairobi – either on the potential outcomes that we identified, or on the Ministerial Declaration.’[1]

This despondency comes at a time when the WTO should be celebrating its 20th anniversary, as well as the first time the organisation’s highest decision making body will meet in Africa. Considering that the DDA would have mostly benefited African countries, maybe it is indeed natural to pull the plug on the round on African soil.

 The WTO was created to establish a framework to lower international trade barriers by establishing a rules-based system for its 162 members. The Doha Development negotiation round was launched in the Qatari capital almost fifteen years ago. At its inception, member states hoped that the round would promote the interests of developing countries primarily through eliminating trade barriers and farming subsidies in developed markets.

Farming subsidies are of particular importance to developing countries, as emerging economies would have a competitive advantage in agricultural trade, were it not for agricultural subsidies and trade barriers restricting competitiveness and access in developed markets. However, agricultural sectors in developed markets typically have strong lobbying forces, which hinder any change to the status quo.

Ultimately this has been the key point of contention within the negotiations of the Doha Development Agenda: despite the “development” discourse, negotiations remained largely dominated by traditional economic powers (such as the US, EU and Japan) who seek greater market liberalisation in developing countries, while unable or unwilling to eliminate domestic farming subsidies.

Rising powers from emerging markets (e.g. China, India and South Africa), however, have refused to budge on their demands for developed countries to phase out their domestic agricultural support programmes. This emergence of multiple and more assertive voices has prolonged the conclusion of the round.
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by Azwimphelele Langalanga and Cyril Prinsloo
Photo credits All Africa

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