The World Trade Organization (WTO) closed its Nairobi Conference over the weekend with some agreements and new directions many -- both in the negotiations and reporting on their outcome -- found surprising. Indeed, some say the changes may have such significance that they could completely change the face of the WTO.
For the first time since 2001, when the Doha round launched, the WTO's 164 members declined to "reaffirm" the Doha mandate. Moreover, the members agreed to discuss an array of new issues and focus on smaller, more incremental reforms.
The delegates also managed to reach a significant agreement regarding a global ban on farming export subsidies. The WTO's Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, called the farming export subsidies ban the "most significant" reform pertaining to agriculture in the organization's history.
For years, many nations in the industrialized world had argued that continuing the Doha negotiations was simply rendering the WTO irrelevant and ineffectual. Yet, this new turn of events led one official to call the Nairobi discussions "the death of Doha and the birth of a new WTO."
The Doha talks, which spanned 14 of the WTO's 20-year history, stalled for so long that many argued for discarding the issue. Frustration had reached a boiling point, and many nations began to push for regional trade agreements and organizations as a means of bypassing the ineffectual WTO. That led the US to enter into the negotiations that ultimately resulted in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The US has also been working on a similar agreement with the European Union.
The stall of the Doha mandate also affected the WTO. This spurred Azevêdo to push for seeking smaller, more achievable reforms, such as the agricultural export subsidies ban.
As Azevêdo told the Financial Times: "We know that we can negotiate … What we need is an agenda." Despite the long-awaited progress, Azevêdo believes the future still holds many tough negotiations.
For its part, the US was quite pleased with the recent progress, calling the development "the road to a new era for the WTO".
India, on the other hand, disagreed with the move to terminate the Doha discussions. It had long been one of the most outspoken advocates for continuing with the Doha, and claimed that "some members" had blocked its continuation. It called the move a "significant departure from the fundamental WTO principle of consensus-based decision-making."