WTO Ministers Say Complete Doha Round Or Suffer Irrelevance 30/11/2009 by Kaitlin Mara, Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service, and subscribing to our service helps support our goals of bringing more transparency to global IP and innovation policies. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You also have the opportunity to offer additional support to your subscription, or to donate. World Trade Organization members today called for a completion of the Doha Development Round of trade liberalisation talks in 2010, tying its success to the relevance of the organisation as a whole, at the opening plenary session of this week’s WTO ministerial. Members also urged a stronger review mechanism, and the head of the World Intellectual Property Organization questioned the effectiveness of the multilateral system. Deadlines set to finish the round have been missed again and again, said the trade minister of Hong Kong, adding the “credibility of this organisation, and the multilateral system, is at risk.… We cannot afford to miss this critical window again.” The Doha Round was launched in 2001. Many other ministers speaking on the opening day of the 30 November to 1 December conference echoed these sentiments. Singapore said it is a “matter of WTO credibility to conclude the Round.” Mexico asked “is the WTO system and the [Dispute Settlement Mechanism] sufficiently agile enough to guarantee our producers that they will have fair play” when economic practices move faster than the policies and processes of the WTO, and called for an updated dispute settlement system to reflect new realities. The Swedish minister said an ability to meet global challenges is necessary to ensure that the WTO remains relevant. Foreign Minister of Brazil Celso Amorim called the WTO “a valuable asset” that runs the risk of losing relevance unless its “members are prepared to invest the political capital required to equip it for the agenda of the 21st Century, an agenda that will inevitably be linked to sustainable development in all its dimensions.” And the following text has been proposed for inclusion in the chair’s summary of this ministerial meeting, currently supported by Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, European Union, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania on behalf of the Least Developed Country Group, Turkey, the United States and Uruguay: “The rapid change in the global economic environment requires the WTO to be agile and responsive in order to preserve its central role in the global trading system. With a view to maintaining the effective functioning of the rules based multilateral trading system, the WTO needs to periodically engage in a process of review of its functioning, efficiency and transparency and consider systemic improvements, as appropriate. Ministers have invited the General Council therefore, to establish an appropriate deliberative process to review the organization’s functioning, efficiency and transparency and consider possible improvements, while bearing in mind the high priority we attach to the successful conclusion of the DDA negotiations. We look forward to reviewing the progress in this regard in our next meeting.” The ministerial meeting is expressly not a negotiation (IPW, WTO, 30 November 2009), but that did not stop ministers from discussing the unfinished business of the Doha Round, an issue that will haunt this week’s discussions even though it is officially not on the table. WIPO’s View on Trade Intellectual property was not brought up in many of the speeches, as delegates preferred to highlight the wider picture, and a few big-ticket items such as the cotton negotiations or aid for trade. However, World Intellectual Property Organization Director General Francis Gurry spoke at the inaugural session, highlighting how much had changed in IP since the WTO was created 15 years ago. In the “new era” of innovation, said Gurry, there is an increasingly diverse set of actors, and an increasing possibility for cross-global collaboration. The speed of innovation also has picked up dramatically. This, he said “gives us new cause to wonder about the slowness of the multilateral process,” asking whether the process could respond to this new world of innovation. “Could YouTube or Twitter have been achieved by a treaty?” he asked. India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, mentioned the necessity of bringing the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement in line with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as one of a list of development objectives that “cannot be diluted or ignored” in the completion of the round, not least because they will give developing countries incentives to bring more to the table. These incentives are important as “the contribution of developing countries would be greater than that given by developed countries in any of the previous negotiating rounds,” Amorim said, adding “it is unreasonable to expect that concluding the Round would involve additional unilateral concessions from developing countries.” Many also highlighted the importance of maintaining the international trading system and assistance for small countries, such as Catherine Ashton, who on her last day as EU trade commissioner credited the multilateral system with containing protectionist moves in the wake of the financial crisis, but added that “the poorest countries in this room are also those that are most vulnerable,” and called for an increase in aid for trade, making technical assistance and capacity building a key aspect of the Round. Australia agreed, saying “trade liberalisation is not enough in and of itself for developing countries,” and there is “no point in opening markets if those countries are not competitive enough to take advantage. Capacity building is key.” To this end, Brazil will provide duty-free-quota-free access for 80 percent of tariff lines on products from least developing countries by mid-2010, increasing to all of them over four years, Amorim said. No draft declaration is proposed by the secretariat, and the outcome of this meeting will be in the form of a chair’s summary text, said Mario Matus of Chile, chair of the WTO General Council. The next ministerial meeting is loosely scheduled for 2011 in Geneva, unless there is an offer to hold it elsewhere, he added. US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the plenary session the US is committed to reaching “endgame” in the negotiations for completion in 2010, but that real offers will be needed from all sides. “While work programmes and stock takings [are] useful, we cannot confuse process and substance,” he said. Separately, US Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced today they would reintroduce the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development, and Employment (TRADE) Act, which would “revamp US trade policy by mandating trade pact reviews, establishing higher standards, protecting workers in developing nations, and restoring congressional oversight of future trade agreements. The bill would mandate trade pact reviews, establish standards, protect workers in developing nations, and would help restore Congressional oversight of future trade agreements,” according to a press release from Brown’s office. “The WTO is you, the 153 members,” said Director General Pascal Lamy at the inauguration of the meeting, adding “you will have to decide whether 2010 as a target can be met … reaffirmation is not enough. We need action – concrete action – to close remaining gaps.” William New contributed to this story. Kaitlin Mara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."WTO Ministers Say Complete Doha Round Or Suffer Irrelevance" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.