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What do developing countries want from the Doha Round?

Written by Massimiliano Cali


The Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations is once again at a crucial juncture. But will it deliver for developing countries? Sheila Page, Massimiliano Calí and Dirk Willem te Velde discuss in a new ODI paper Development package at the WTO? the often varied interests of developing countries in a final settlement at next week’s ministerial talks.

Examining what developing countries actually want to get out of the negotiations is as crucial as ever, because too often it is incorrectly assumed that the same interests apply to all developing countries (whether it relates to agricultural, services negotiations or policy space). There is not a simple answer to ‘what is a development package in the Doha round?’. Partly because of what has been achieved already on Special and Differential Treatment (SDT as it’s known), and partly because of the growing identification of specific interests by different countries, the specific SDT proposals much discussed at the beginning of the Round (including by ODI, see our 2005 ‘ODI on... Doha’ page and our set of Doha Development Briefings) are no longer seen as a priority by any negotiating group, with the single exception of duty free quota free access for least developed countries. Subsidies to agriculture, especially to cotton, probably unite developing countries in opposition. Other interests that are now seen as essential are more diffuse, but certainly include some aspects of services and rules, as well as the traditional areas of agriculture and non-agricultural goods (NAMA). Compromises and inter-group negotiations up until recently have suggested that it is possible to envisage an outcome that satisfies all developing countries, even if it involves some disappointments for all of them.

What is still not clear is either that all developing countries want to make the necessary compromises or that developed countries would be willing to accept the minimum requirements of developing countries. There have been repeated proposals, from a range of countries, for an ‘early harvest’, to make an agreement on those areas that are effectively settled, such as trade facilitation, the least developed countries issues from the Hong Kong declaration, perhaps some other rules not even mentioned as issues here. But the major developing countries (and some developed) have strongly opposed this, citing the need to preserve ‘negotiating capital’ in all areas. While these countries may be able to discourage a settlement, they could not bring one about. The discussion of interests in the background paper confirms that there are no leading countries among the developing countries who can speak for all.

If a general settlement is reached next week (and this remains a big IF), and the broad parameters have been identified, further detailed analysis will need to be undertaken (after the precise tariff schedules become clearer) in order to assess whether the actual development benefits will indeed materialise.