December 18, 2005, Hong Kong, Press Release

After a week long intense discussions, arguments and counter-arguments, 150 members of the WTO, the world trade rules making body, finally arrived at a consensus and adopted a revised work programme under the Doha Development Agenda. Its contours have been drawn. However, it is important to bear in mind that the complexity of the text should not be obscuring the ultimate vision.

Keeping the positive outlook, “the Ministerial text is seemingly a move forward over the “July Package”, adopted at Geneva in 2004. While in agriculture some of the important concerns of developing countries remain unaddressed, the text on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) is relatively better for them”, says CUTS International, a leading research and advocacy group.

On the issue of export subsidies, the simplest in the July Framework as Members only had to agree on the end date of their elimination, caused fierce debate between the US and the EU on food aid. Finally, the EU has been successful in defying the G-20’s major demand of setting 2010 as the end date for elimination of all forms of export subsidies. As per the final text 2013 is the date for elimination of export subsidies. This will be achieved in a progressive and parallel manner. However, it is doubtful that WTO Members would be able to honour the 2013 deadline given the complexity of the language in the text on export subsidies in paragraph 6 of the declaration.

Under the agricultural market access, after much effort developing countries have been able to secure a positive outcome on Special Products and Special Safeguard Measures. As per paragraph 7 of the text, developing country members will have the flexibility to self-designate an appropriate number of tariff lines on Special Products and also have the right to have recourse to Special Safeguard Mechanism. It must be recalled that this was one of the major achievements of developing countries in the “July Framework” agreement.

The language of the text on Cotton is disappointing in contrast to the pressure mounted by African cotton producing least developed countries (LDCs). There is no commitment from the developed countries on reduction of domestic subsidies on cotton. The issue is still within square bracket and left for further negotiations. Also, with regard to the demand of creating a “special development fund”, the developed countries are still non-committal.

The text on NAMA gives a sense of comfort to some extent as tariff peaks and tariff escalation would be reduced or appropriately eliminated by using Swiss Formula with multiple co-efficients. As regards preference erosion, which is one of the major fears of LDCs, this has been recognized in the text.

On providing duty and quota free market access to LDCs, the demand of including all products has not been accepted unequivocally. In fact some of the LDCs might be completely denied this preferential market access.