"Doha is dead", time to rethink a new model of trade

25 July, 2007
Over ninety civil society organizations from all over the world have sent a letter to their Trade Ministers, calling on them to acknowledge the failure of the Doha Round and to institute a two-year moratorium to provide the time and space necessary to rethink the model and process of global trade negotiations.

The call by the civil society groups came just as the Chairs of the agriculture and non agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations at the WTO issued their revised draft modalities texts on 17 July.

"We believe that the time has come to officially declare the Doha Round of the WTO negotiations dead and to provide the necessary space to re-think the kind of multilateral trade rules that are needed to create employment and achieve sustainable development," said the civil society groups in their letter to the Trade Ministers.

A copy of the letter was also sent to WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who is also the Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee that oversees the Doha negotiations, as well as the Chair of the agriculture negotiations, Ambassador Crawford Falconer of New Zealand and the Chair of the NAMA negotiations, Ambassador Don Stephenson of Canada.

Among the civil society groups that signed the letter were ActionAid International; Asian Indigenous Women's Network; ATTAC (includes branches in Austria, Hungary, Japan, Norway and Sweden); Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia); Corporate Europe Observatory; Council of Canadians; Focus on the Global South (Thailand, India, Philippines); Friends of the Earth; IBON Foundation, Inc (Philippines); Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP); Public Citizen; Public Services International (PSI); Tebtebba (Philippines); Sierra Club; The Berne Declaration; and Transnational Institute (TNI).

In their letter to the Trade Ministers, the civil society groups noted that it is now almost six years since the Doha Agenda was launched in November 2001.

What has followed since then is a litany of setbacks and/or failures - from the collapse of the Cancun Ministerial in 2003, followed by the July framework cobbled together in 2004, then the desperate moves of the 2005 Hong Kong Ministerial to breathe new life into the Doha agenda, which led to the suspension of the WTO negotiations in 2006 and now the recent breakdown of the G-4 (Brazil, India, EU and US) talks in Potsdam.

"Doha was supposed to be the 'development' round. But what has transpired over the intervening six years has been quite the opposite," said the letter to Trade Ministers.

"Instead of coming up with a set of multilateral trade rules designed to increase the capacities of developing countries to create new jobs, eliminate poverty and build sustainable economies, the Doha Agenda has been manipulated to primarily serve the interests of the northern industrialized powers to expand market access for their transnational corporations."

The civil society groups said that all the studies that have come out since 2005 - from the World Bank, UNCTAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tufts University and the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) - demonstrate that the current proposals for the Doha Agenda make developing countries, and particularly the poorest countries, the biggest losers.

Millions of people all over the world, including farmers, fisher-folk, workers and trade unionists, environmentalists, faith-based groups and other civil society organizations, have been denouncing the Doha talks as promoting a "corporate-driven" model of trade that pays little attention to peoples' rights and needs.

"Now, more than ever, world leaders must face up to the fact that the global trade regime has marginalised a vast array of communities and interests who have finally united to stop any further expansion of the system," said the letter.

The Doha Agenda and Model have failed to increase the trust of WTO's membership, let alone the public it is supposed to serve, the civil society groups said, adding that around the world, people have informed themselves and popular opinion has changed to the point where the WTO is suffocating from a crisis of legitimacy.

And, no effort by free trade champions to "better educate" the public or adopt "quick fixes" can reverse this reality.

"Declaring the death of Doha does not mean the end of [the] world trading system." the letter stressed, pointing out that another multilateralism is possible, but not one that prioritizes the rights of corporations over the rights of people and the planet while reducing the power to self-govern.

The civil society groups urged the Trade Ministers to acknowledge the failure of the Doha Round now and called on them to institute a two-year moratorium to provide the time and space necessary to re-think the model and process of global trade negotiations.

"It's time to go back home, and start a process of reflection and consultation with your peoples that can pave the way for a new and different model of multilateral trade."

"The only credible option now is to stimulate public discussion and debate with governments and civil society and social movements about creating alternative trade regimes that are people, development, and environment centered," said the letter to Trade Ministers.