What is the Doha Development Agenda?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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The Doha Development Agenda is the most recent round of trade-negotiations within the World Trade Organization (WTO). It began in November of 2001, and is seen as the follow-up to the earlier Uruguay Round, which lasted from 1986 to 1994. The Doha Development Agenda attempts to redefine the earlier agreements on global trade to make them fit the current political reality more closely, and to bring greater agreement among the constituents of the WTO.

The WTO is the inheritor to the earlier General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, an organization set up in the wake of World War II to help regulate international trade. The WTO was formed in 1995, as part of the Uruguay Round, which also set out many trade negotiations that have guided the path of international trade ever since. Part of the Uruguay Round was an agreement that a new agreement would begin sometime in 1999, to allow the member nations to determine what their needs were. This agreement, which was to be known as the Millennial Round, never took off, in part because of massive protests outside the proposed meeting in Seattle.


Before the Doha Development Agenda began, the WTO had already met in a Ministerial Conference in Singapore in 1996. During this first conference, they set up four working groups to deal with some key issues over the next few years: customs issues, trade and investment, trade and competition, and transparency in government procurement. These issues, the so-called Singapore issues, were considered crucial to a number of important members of the WTO, including Japan, Korea, and the European Union, but no agreement was reached. As a result, it was decided that any future Ministerial meeting would have to contain at the very least these four issues.

Before Doha, two more Ministerial Conferences occurred after Singapore, with the second occurring in Geneva, Switzerland in 1999, and the third occurring in Seattle, Washington, later in 1999. The Doha Development Agenda therefore was laid out at the Fourth Ministerial Conference, in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. By far the biggest issue on the table at Doha was the opening of agricultural markets, with the opening of manufacturing markets, and expanded intellectual property regulation also taking an important place at the talks.

All development rounds have desired end points built into them, and the Doha Development Agenda was slated to end in 2005, with agreements reached on all of the pivotal issues. The Fifth Ministerial Conference occurred in 2003, in Cancún, and was a shocking disaster. The talks collapsed after only four days, as it became apparent that the difference over key issues between the industrialized nations and the developing nations were nearly irreconcilable. The collapse was seen by many as a victory for the developing nations, the so-called Group of 20, who had held firm in their opposition to certain demands the developed nations were making, especially relating to agriculture.

Two further meetings happened between the Fifth and Sixth Ministerial Conferences, one in Geneva in 2004, and one in Paris in 2005. These two meetings were meant to help push forward on compromises, mainly by removing the Singapore issues from the table entirely. This allowed for some headway to be made, and for guidelines to be set out to try to resolve the Doha Development Agenda by the deadline of 2005.

The Sixth Ministerial Conference took place in Hong Kong in 2005, and once again resulted in a failure to achieve consensus. Some forward progress was made, however, leading to optimism about the future, even though the proposed deadline would not be made. Further meetings in Geneva in 2006, Potsdam in 2007, and Geneva in 2008 dulled this optimism, as time after time no compromise was achieved. By the end of 2008 it became apparent that the Doha Development Agenda was some ways from being resolved satisfactorily, and negotiations continue slowly and carefully.


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