Doha Round talks end in fiasco

Geneva - 30th July 2008

While the failure was informally announced yesterday in an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiating Committee of the WTO, the formal pronouncement of the end-game was made by the Director General WTO today in a day-long meeting of the TNC. He was saddened to inform that while there was a broad based consensus on the major issues; and there was enough on the table to harvest; the final stroke ended in fiasco and led the seven years long negotiating efforts to an unwanted and undesirable collapse. He stressed the need for preserving what has been achieved during the process, pick up the pieces and reconstruct the thrust at an opportune moment. Full statement of the Director General WTO could be accessed at:http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news08_e/meet08_chair_30july08_e.htm

After making his formal statement, he opened the floor for comments from the Membership. Some 60 delegations took the floor and shared their sheer disappointment on the end result of their collective untiring efforts; and that the development dimension of Doha Round had become hostage to the commercial interests of a few members. In his statement, Ambassador Manzoor Ahmad termed it as "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory". He attributed the failure to a few countries that were entrusted with great responsibility but could not make even small concessions necessary to achieve a positive conclusion to the round. Full text of his statement is reproduced as below:

"We stand here today having snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. In the past few days we have alternated between soaring to new heights of common understanding and exploring the depths of a few narrowly defined interests. In short, we have wavered between success and failure. I am deeply saddened to be making my last intervention at the TNC after the events of last evening. Personally, I had always hoped for more, especially after spending the last five years negotiating these issues.

The Doha Round was born out of the understanding that prosperity and opportunity should not only be the realm of select group of countries or people. In this round not only did we have the potential to bridge a select set of economic interests, but more importantly, to bring the world closer together. We had the possibility of creating a more coherent and unified trading system for the world. However, our procrastination has not served us well. We have been witnessing proliferation of FTA's without realizing the signals they were sending us about the weakening of the multilateral System and further marginalization of the poorer countries.

Many SVEs, LDCs, and low income countries have given much to this round. Not only through their efforts to negotiate better conditions for their people but even through the great burden of staffing and maintaining their operations in Geneva. Together, we have discussed and agreed on the vast majority of a Doha deal. Yet, somehow, our talks have been crippled by less than 5% of the remaining issues.

Smaller economies like Pakistan needed an agreement at the WTO because it is the only international forum where we can negotiate on an even footing with any and all potential trading partners. Sadly, a few countries that were entrusted with great responsibility could not make even small concessions necessary to achieve a positive conclusion to the round.

As lamentable as this ministerial may have been, we need to reflect and learn from the missteps of the recurrent failures. I think it was Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. During the last two or three years, we kept persisting with G4 or G7 and expected a different result. We need to re-think the process if we are to get somewhere.

Despite the current failure being a severe set-back for the Round, may be it could still be resuscitated if we could change the process and give it some more time. We should not rush for early harvests though it may seem very tempting.

Pascal, with an extra-ordinary person like you at the helm of affairs, I am sure the WTO members will soon pick up the pieces and make use of the progress already achieved to reconstruct and conclude the round. I would like to thank you, the Chairs of the General Council, Ag, NAMA and other chairs and the Secretariat for their hard work and commitment and wish you the best of luck."

This TNC session will follow the meeting of General Council meeting tomorrow, bringing an end to the Ministerial level engagement at Geneva starting on 21st of July. Pakistan was represented in this Mini-Ministerial meeting by our Commerce Minister, Ch. Ahmad Mukhtar, who also attended "Green Room" process of the select-countries on the basis of contributions made by Pakistan in moving the Doha negotiations forward.