The Doha Round talks are approximately 80 percent complete, with agreements having already been made on major topics. This will lay a solid foundation for completing the negotiations this year.
In addition, the current surge in grain prices has increased producers' profits, which happens to be a good opportunity for developed countries to reduce agricultural subsidies. In response to rising grain prices, food-importing countries have cut tariffs on agricultural imports. The high grain prices have therefore improved WTO members' willingness to reach agreements on agricultural issues. Disputes over agricultural trade were a key reason for the failures of previous negotiations. WTO members' newfound flexibility will pave the way for a final breakthrough.
Also, world leaders established principles for coming negotiations at the G20 and APEC summits last November. First, the parties must adhere to agreements that have already been reached, and these agreements must not be overturned. Otherwise, the negotiations will have to be restarted. Second, the parties must respect the mandates of the Doha Round negotiations. The Doha Round, also known as the Doha Development Round, aims to deliver benefits to developing countries. The parties must focus on resolving the concerns and aspirations of developing countries to make the negotiations a success.
World leaders have also promised to push for the ratification of the Doha agreement by their legislatures as soon as possible, once it is reached during the negotiations. In other words, countries have agreed to provide legislative support for the conclusion of the Doha Round negotiations.
This year is the best time to complete the Doha Round negotiations. Next year, the United States, France and India will all be busy with elections. If this opportunity is missed, we will have to wait three to four years for the next one.
Completing the negotiations this year will require participants to overcome a number of challenges. For one, there is not much time left. Negotiations on major issues must be completed by June, in order to leave six months for drafting the text of the agreement. What's more, the remaining 20 percent of negotiations, which are directly related to the vital interests of WTO members, will be much more difficult to complete.
Currently, agricultural trade is the most contentious topic in the Doha Round talks. The WTO allows developing countries to adopt special safeguard measures to protect their vulnerable agricultural sectors. Countries such as China and India expect to lower the threshold for using these measures. They want to improve farmers' livelihoods, while maintaining food security for their citizens. This wish is shared by more than 100 developing countries.
In addition, double standards must be changed. Developed countries have asked developing countries to increase market access, but do not want to cut their own agricultural subsidies. Developed countries also tend to create trade barriers for competitive non-agricultural products from developing countries. This double standard is unacceptable to developing countries.
At the same time, protectionism is mounting in a number of countries. These countries refuse to implement the agreements that have already been reached by most WTO members. Instead, they are asking more from developing countries, without making further concessions or promises in regard to the opening of their own markets.
Ultimately, the opportunities of the Doha Round talks will outweigh the challenges. If all parties involved can keep the bigger picture in mind and put flexible and practical measures in place, a breakthrough can be made and these ambitious multilateral trade talks will turn out to be successful.
- If the Doha Round trade talks produce an agreement, new market access will bring economic benefits of $360 billion annually. If we take into account new market access created by the service sector and trade facilitation, the number could reach $500 billion.
- The Doha Round talks are approximately 80 percent complete, with agreements having been made on many major topics. But the remaining 20 percent of negotiations, which are directly related to the WTO members' vital interests, will be much more difficult to complete.
- More than 100 developing countries want to lower the threshold for using special safeguard measures to protect their vulnerable agricultural sectors.
The author is Secretary General of the China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation