Doha dead and buried in Nairobi: lessons for the WTO

Author:Antoine Martin, Bryan Mercurio
Position:Faculty of Law, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Pages:49-66
SUMMARY

Purpose This paper aims to reflect on the outcomes of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference of 2015, which, for all intents and purposes, put the Doha Round to rest and analyses the policy implications and lessons for policymaking at the World Trade Organization (WTO), most importantly the abandonment of the “single undertaking” and return to plurilateral agreements. Design/methodology/ap... (see full summary)

 
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Doha dead and buried in Nairobi:
lessons for the WTO
Antoine Martin and Bryan Mercurio
Faculty of Law, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
Abstract
Purpose This paper aims to reect on the outcomes of the Nairobi Ministerial Conference of 2015, which,
for all intents and purposes, put the Doha Round to rest and analyses the policy implications and lessons for
policymaking at the World Trade Organization (WTO), most importantly the abandonment of the “single
undertaking” and return to plurilateral agreements.
Design/methodology/approach The paper approaches the issue of WTO policymaking by analysing
the various outputs produced both before and because of the Ministerial Conference.
Findings The paper suggests that the Nairobi Ministerial has nally put an end to the Doha Round
and comes to the conclusion that policymaking at the multilateral level (i.e. through the single
undertaking) will change signicantly in the future because the WTO Members are incapable of reaching
a comprehensive agreement at this time. Instead, the current trend towards trade policymaking via FTA
is likely to continue while the WTO focuses on plurilateral negotiations on narrow and discreet issues.
Originality/value The paper contributes to the literature on the analysis of global regulatory
fragmentation and on trade policymaking. It draws attention, in particular, to the consequences of the last
Ministerial Conference and highlights prospects for the future of global trade regulation.
Keywords Fragmentation, Doha Round, Nairobi Ministerial, Single undertaking,
Trade negotiations, World Trade Organization (WTO)
Paper type Research paper
The Doha Round – also referred to as the Doha Development Agenda (DDA) – has
been troubled almost from the beginning and left many onlookers concerned for the
future of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the multilateral trading system.
Suspended and revived several times over the past decade, the Doha Round
seemingly ended in defeat in 2008 (World Trade Organization, 2006;International
Center for Trade and Development, 2006;Castle and Landler, 2008;Stewart, 2008).
Since that time, attempts to revive the Round have been unsuccessful, and the Round
is essentially dead. The reasons for the collapse are numerous, but perhaps the most
important reason is that Members were simply not able to overcome longstanding
differences over old economy issues, most prominently agriculture-related policies.
Fourteen years after the launch of the Doha Round and following months of
contentious consultations, the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference held in Nairobi,
Kenya (“Nairobi Ministerial”), attempted to breathe new life into the Round by
reaching an agreement on the issues of export competition and agricultural
subsidies – the so-called Nairobi Package (World Trade Organization, 2015a). The
Nairobi Package has been described as an historic and ground-breaking sign of
progress, but the reality is less glowing, as there remain a number of issues that
have been left for the Members to determine and manage at a later stage. Moreover,
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/1477-0024.htm
Lessons for
the WTO
49
Received 10 January 2017
Revised 10 January 2017
Accepted 10 January 2017
Journalof International Trade Law
andPolicy
Vol.16 No. 1, 2017
pp.49-66
©Emerald Publishing Limited
1477-0024
DOI 10.1108/JITLP-01-2017-0001
the status and future of the Doha Round remains uncertain, and it is our contention
that the Nairobi Ministerial nally buried the Round. From here forward, at least in
the short and medium term, WTO negotiations will focus on small, manageable
issues and, in so doing, depart from the organization’s core concept of the “single
undertaking”[1].
This article provides commentary and analysis on these developments. Part I serves
as a refresher to the Doha Round deadlock by briey explaining why the Members failed
to conclude the negotiations in a timely manner. Part I also provides an overview of the
Nairobi Package as a means to show where the Doha Round stands as of early-2017. Part
II starts by discussing the consequences of the outcomes decided (or otherwise) at
Nairobi in terms of multilateral trade policymaking and suggests that, owing to the
Organization’s structure, subsequent negotiations will have to be undertaken in a
step-by-step rather than holistic basis. More specically, the negotiating climate and
institutional governance constraints simply will not allow the WTO to maintain the
all-or-nothing “single undertaking” approach to institutional progress. Instead, the
WTO will have to shift its leadership style and focus on smaller self-contained narrow
issues so as to progress and remain relevant to its Members. In essence, this means
moving past the albatross that has become the Doha Round – and there are signs that
this is in fact occurring. Part III then questions the WTO’s continuing ability to help
shape the future of the international trade landscape and considers the idea that the
organization might essentially act merely as an umbrella for trade negotiations in the
future. Part IV concludes.
1. The state of play: the Doha round and the Nairobi package
After 15 years of relatively fruitless negotiations, it is clear that a number of issues have led
to the failure of Members to conclude the Doha Round. The rst section of this Part reviews
the main issues leading to the deadlock and ultimate death of the Round in late-2008. The
second section analyses what was accomplished, and left untouched, in the “Nairobi
Package”.
1.1 The Doha deadlock
Commentators have pronounced the death of the Doha Round many times over the past 15
years (Abbott, 2009;Schwab, 2011;Kleimann and Guinan, 2011;Mavroidis, 2011), and the
literature is replete with details on the failings of the Doha Round and its continuing deadlock
(Mercurio, 2007,2009;Lanoszka, 2008). Upon reection, and perhaps even obvious at the
time, the failure of Doha is rather unsurprising, for several reasons.
Launched with grand ambition as the “Doha Development Agenda”[2], the Round
suffered from a crowded negotiating programme, unrealistic deadlines and perhaps
more importantly a negotiating model which ensured that nothing would be agreed upon
until everything was agreed – the “single undertaking”. While the term “Doha
Development Agenda” is catchy, Members never agreed to its meaning and never
determined what role “development” would play in a negotiating context. Given these
issues, it should have been expected that the Round would suffer and perhaps even end
in legal and political impasse.
While the Round has many killers, blame has then mostly been apportioned to the issue
of agriculture. Despite its steadily declining role and importance as a percentage of world
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