The Doha Round and the Future of the WTO

The Doha Round – The Basics

Following an absolute disaster in Seattle in 1999, the Doha Round began in 2001 in Doha, Qatar. The purpose of the Doha Round was to look at a “broad and balanced” approach to trade rather than the laissez-faire approach that led up to the failed Seattle conference. Doha set the agenda for the next major round of talks for the WTO, dubbed the “Development Round,” and designed to focus on improving the developing nations’ trade profile.

The developing world looked at Doha as an opportunity to negotiate or revisit:

  • liberalization of trade in agricultural goods
  • elimination of duties and quotas from the least developed nations
  • relaxation of TRIPS requirements
  • differential treatment for developing countries to implement the Uruguay Round
  • implementation of the Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC)



The declaration coming out of Doha committed to the following:

  • substantial improvement in market access for agricultural goods
  • reduction and eventual elimination of subsidies for agricultural goods
  • reduction in trade-distorting domestic subsidies

The declaration called for special and differential treatment for the trade in agricultural goods but failed to address domestic subsidies or tariff reduction goals. Perhaps, more importantly, none of the objectives or commitments contained firm timelines for completion.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) called for duty and quota-free access to developed country markets as part of the Zanzibar declaration. This was given lip service but no natural implementation teeth at Doha. The Doha declaration made a promise to promise to look at the issue, but no clear objectives.


The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) at the Doha meetings focused on health concerns, particularly HIV/AIDS, mental health, and malaria. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Agreement called for the nations to ensure access to medicines for all and protect their public health. The Doha Declaration on TRIPS essentially allowed member countries to set the licensing requirements for the development of pharmaceuticals within their borders and establish states of emergency to allow them to manufacture drugs and circumvent TRIPS provisions.

The LCs also called for the inability to critical patent drugs on the WHO’s list and foodstuffs, genomes, and other inventions related to public health issues.

In 2005, some of these elements became a reality, as amendments to TRIPS made it easier for LDCs to acquire and manufacture generic versions of medicines and to export under compulsory licenses to produce. This provision was scheduled to go into effect in 2013.This Amendment to Article 31 of the TRIPS agreement. It provided that drugs be exported to countries that lacked manufacturing capacity under national compulsory licensing agreements. As 2013 dawned, the implementation was pushed out to 2021.