The WTO Doha Ministerial: Results and Agenda for a New Round of Negotiations

Trade ministers from the 142 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) met in Doha, Qatar from November 9-14, 2001. At the end of their meeting, they issued a ministerial declaration, along with two statements on developing country concerns, that establish an agenda for a new round trade negotiations. This agenda has significant implications for Congress. Most of the agreements reached during the round will require congressional approval before they can be implemented by the United States. More immediately, however, the Doha results provide a framework for the congressional debate on trade policy that is taking place in the context of congressional consideration of legislation authorizing presidential trade promotion, or fast-track, authority. For the United States, the greatest success was the adoption of language on agricultural trade. The Ministerial Declaration stated that the members committed to "comprehensive negotiations aimed at: substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting support." The Declaration includes other market access issues supported by the United States, such as continuing negotiations on trade in services. It also calls for the reduction or elimination of tariffs, as well as non-tariff barriers, for industrial products. It directs the General Council to report to the fifth ministerial (to be held in 2003) on the progress of the work program on electronic commerce and calls on members to continue the practice of duty-free treatment for electronic transmissions until the fifth ministerial. However, negotiations on the market access issues of transparency in government procurement and of trade facilitation, which the United States wanted on the agenda, were postponed until at least the fifth ministerial, as were the other two so-called "Singapore issues" of investment and competition policy. Major work on the topic of the environment also was postponed. The United States was unsuccessful in keeping out language on antidumping. The Ministerial Declaration states that members "agree to negotiations aimed at clarifying and improving disciplines" under the antidumping and subsidies agreements. One controversial issue that is absent from the work program for the next round is labor rights and trade, although the issue is mentioned in the preamble of the Doha Declaration. The results of the Doha Ministerial have already touched off heated debate within the 107th Congress that will likely continue as the Congress considers legislation to provide for presidential trade promotion, or fast-track, negotiating authority. The Doha agenda could play a role in shaping that legislation. Members of Congress will be weighing that agenda against a variety of national, regional, and local economic interests and concerns.