The current Doha Development Agend of multilateral trade negotiations under the WTO was launched during the Fourth WTO Ministerial Conference at Doha, Qatar in November 2001. The Doha negotiations incorporated talks already underway on agriculture and services. Agriculture and services were the only areas where negotiations on further trade liberalization had been mandated in the Uruguay Round WTO Agreements (see Agreement on Agriculture: General Issues).
The Doha Ministerial Declaration sets out the basic mandate for the negotiations. With over three quarters of WTO members identifying themselves as developing countries, the Doha Declaration gives developing country issues a high priority in the negotiations. This is reflected in the decision to refer to the negotiations as the Doha Development Agenda and by members committing themselves to addressing the interests and concerns of developing countries-especially the least developed countries (LDCs)-in the multilateral trading system. The Doha Declaration also states that "special and differential treatment for developing countries shall be an integral part of all elements of the negotiations."
In addition to the Doha Ministerial Declaration, two other key Doha documents track progress in agricultural negotiations:
- The General Council Decision of August 1, 2004-also called the "July Package"-provides a framework for "modalities," broad outlines or formulas for reducing import barriers, export subsidies, and domestic support in the final agreement in agriculture.
- The Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration of December 2005 includes preliminary agreements on several issues in the agricultural negotiations. In the area of market access, this includes progress on establishingad valorem tariff equivalents on which cuts will be based; adopting four tariff bands that would subject higher tariffs to larger cuts; accepting the criteria to select certain products ("Special Products") for reduced tariff cuts by developing countries; and agreement by developed countries to extend duty- and quota-free market access for most products originating from LDCs. The Declaration also documents the agreement to end export subsidies in agriculture by 2013.
The main objectives for agriculture found in the Doha Declaration are for "substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade distorting domestic support." Members also agreed to "take note of the non-trade concerns reflected in the negotiating proposals submitted by members and confirm that non-trade concerns will be taken into account in the negotiations as provided for in the Agreement on Agriculture." Most countries accept that agriculture has functions other than producing food and fiber-non-trade concerns-such as food security, environmental protection, structural adjustment, rural development, poverty alleviation, and animal welfare. These non-trade concerns are an additional consideration as countries seek to negotiate cuts in tariffs, domestic support, and export subsidies, while providing for the special and differential needs of developing countries.
In the area of market access, WTO members have agreed that tariff reductions will be made through a tiered tariff-cutting formula that takes into account their different tariff structures. Each country's tariffs will be categorized into four tiers based on the height of each tariff, with each tier subject to a different percentage reduction. The overall objective of the tiered formula is to achieve a degree of harmonization of tariff structures across countries and products. This will be achieved through progressively deeper cuts on those tiers containing higher tariffs, with flexibilities for members to designate a limited number of Sensitive Products. Sensitive Products will be subject to lower reduction commitments, but with some additional TRQ commitments required to assure that substantial improvements in market access will be achieved for all products.
Concerning "special and differential treatment for developing countries," there is agreement that developing countries' tariffs will be subject to lesser cuts than developed countries' tariffs and they will be given more time to implement these cuts. There is also agreement that developing countries will be able to designate a limited number of products as Special Products, which would be subject to either no or lesser tariff cuts.
As with market access, negotiators in the Doha talks have agreed that there will be an element of harmonization in the reductions to be made in trade-distorting domestic support by developed countries. Specifically, countries with higher levels of permitted amber box trade-distorting domestic support will be subject to deeper cuts. In a departure from the AoA commitments, blue box expenditures will be capped and, along with de minimissupport, reduced. Amber box, blue box, and de minimis policies will be aggregated together, named Overall Trade-Distorting Domestic Support (OTDS), and subject to cuts.
As for special and differential treatment for developing countries, there is agreement to provide developing countries with longer implementation periods and lower reduction coefficients for all types of trade-distorting domestic support.
Regarding export subsidies, the Doha negotiations have expanded the definition to include other export competition policies including export credits, food aid, and export state trading enterprises (STEs). WTO members have agreed to ensure the parallel elimination of direct export subsidies and imposition of disciplines on export credits, food aid policies, and STEs.
For information on the status of the negotiations and other details, see WTO's Doha Development Agenda: Negotiations, Implementation and Development.