In Qatar, last year, the 144 WTO members which adopted the so-called Doha Declaration did not so much agree to trade liberalisation or any new trade rules to be implemented, as to the launch of a new process, the Doha Development Agenda. They would negotiate a wide range of issues, and – hopefully by 1 January 2005 – agree in a single undertaking to new steps in trade liberalisation and improvement of the rules-based multilateral trading system.
According to the agenda, members set regular deadlines for “interim deliverables”, most of them as a contribution to the negotiating process (modalities, requests, offers), and some of them being of a more substantive nature (such as improving access to medicines).
No one participating in the negotiations can afford to let the deadlines slip, both on timing and on substance. This point has been reaffirmed recently by the Trade Committee of the OECD and was given political impetus at the “mini-ministerial” held in Sydney in November, where the issue of access to medicines for those countries lacking the manufacturing capacity to make their own was given particular support.
Members should build on this political impetus rather than unravelling the progress made so far or preempting the results of the negotiations. Such tactics would only lead to a stiffening of positions. We would all lose. WTO negotiators must remember the key word in the Doha Declaration: “development”. That means richer and poorer countries alike, sharing responsibilities in accordance with their ability to contribute.
Thankfully, the Doha process is still alive and well, but it is showing a few unhealthy symptoms. Its full recovery will depend on everyone rallying to a simple cry: solidarity, one and all.
©OECD Observer No 235, December 2002