World Trade Organization:

Early Decisions Are Vital to Progress in Ongoing Negotiations

GAO-02-879: Published: Sep 4, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 18, 2002.

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In November 2001, the World Trade Organization launched a new set of multilateral negotiations at its ministerial conference in Doha, Qatar. The ministerial conference was important because it laid out an ambitious agenda for a broad set of new multilateral trade negotiations, set forth in the Doha Ministerial Declaration. The declaration calls for a continuation of discussions on liberalizing trade in agriculture and services which began in 2000. In addition, it provides for new talks on market access for nonagricultural products, trade and the environment, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, and other issues. Four main factors led to the World Trade Organization's successful launch of new multilateral trade negotiations in Doha. First, the United States' and the European Union's clear support of the launch, bolstered by the strong personal relationship between the U.S. Trade Representative and the European Union Commissioner for Trade, facilitated agreement on the agenda for new negotiations. Second, World Trade Organization members applied an effective preparation strategy before the Doha ministerial conference. Third, some key developments at the Doha conference helped gain support from the developing countries for launching negotiations. Last, World Trade Organization officials and member country representatives said that the tragic events of September 11th galvanized Organization members to show their support for a strong and healthy worldwide trading system. The Doha Declaration requires negotiators to make early, crucial decisions because it mandates several important interim deadlines. One of these deadlines involves decisions on agricultural trade, where World Trade Organization members must agree on modalities, or methodologies, timetables, and desired targets, for reducing agricultural export subsidies, domestic support, and agricultural tariffs by March 31, 2003. The second interim deadline concerns the "Singapore issues," which Organization members must decide whether to include in the negotiations by the next ministerial conference in September 2003. The overriding challenge for the World Trade Organization in the negotiations will be to forge consensus within its large and diverse membership and to deal with several difficult organizational issues. In addition, the Organization will need to overcome the negative effects of outside events, such as disputes among its key members.

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