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Objective of the Doha Round

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Objective of the Doha Round

The aim of the Doha Round is to make trade rules fairer for developing countries. Thus, lowering trade barriers around the world and permitting free trade between countries of varying prosperity.

Agriculture has taken center place in the Doha Round. The negotiating countries have been unable to come to a generally accepted conclusion regarding cuts in agricultural tariffs and domestic support. (See Chart 1) Very high tariff barriers afflict agriculture trade where the average allowed tariff on agriculture products is high as 62 percent.i By the use of export subsidies agriculture has been vastly distorted. “Over $100 billion a year is allowed globally with the main users -- the EU, the U.S. and Japan -- and so harmonizing these levels, bringing them down, is also a big objective in the WTO.”ii

Essentially the objective is to amend a trade agreement that opens markets and ferments trade to expand and for respective countries to bear the fruits of trade and its benefits. Trade expansion inevitably brings along with it more customers, more income and more growth. To reap the benefits of expanded trade, market access is the key starting point.

Analyzing India’s Positions in the Global Economic System and the WTO

India has been a member of the WTO since January 1st, 1995. India sees opportunities in globalization but at the same time feel it is necessary to be cognisant of the challenges that the globalization process ushers in. Moreover, India is the second most populous country and the largest democracy in the world. In world merchandise exports, they rank as the 30th largest exporter in 2002 with a share of 0.8%; with China ranking 5th, and respectively a share of 5.1%iii

India’s negotiations in the DOHA Round can be said are a means for i) accelerating their integration with the world economy, thereby catalyzing rapid growth and poverty reduction ii) making way for their access to the world markets, iii) ensuring that they have a voice in the formulation of rules governing the operation of the world trading system and decision making in the WTO, iv) for guarding against the intrusion of non-trade related matters into the WTO.

Market Access

According to data from the World Trade Report of 2003 of the WTO, India is considered to be one of the most protected markets in the world.

It is in India’s best interest to fight for a more open, stable and predictable trading environment.

To sum up briefly, the Doha Round failed not only because of the inability of the participating countries to achieve an agreement in the key areas of agricultural subsidies and tariffs but also because developing countries have sought an agreement from developed countries on cutting back farm subsidies as well as tariffs, but they also were seeking bigger cuts on industrial tariffs to have more market access.

“Mr. Lamy said emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China must be prepared to make more efforts on industrial tariffs as they would be the major gainers. Mr. Kamal Nath said India's booming imports, rising at the rate of 30 per cent, were testimony that the country had already provided significant market access. On the other hand, we have not seen such autonomous liberalization in tariffs in developed countries, particularly on products of export interest to developing countries."iv

India’s Negotiating Positions on Doha Round

Taking a look at the beginning of the Doha Round, India’s negotiating positions are difficult to determine since they look to evolve throughout the 5-year negotiations. Prior to the beginning of the Doha Round, India stated that it would not support a round that went beyond the agenda of the Uruguay Round. Yet, in the end, ex Minister Murasoli Miran of India not only supported the round but also claimed the beginning of a “victory for India.”v

India joined the talks with a rather extreme position from the very beginning in 2001. India was in opposition to the expansion of the negotiating agenda beyond the built-in UR agenda, which included mainly market access negotiations in agriculture, negotiating over investment and competition policy, transparency in government procurement, trade facilitation, environment, labor and industrial tariffs.

Regarding the negotiations on market access in industrial goods the Minister was found quoted saying, “Even after all the Uruguay Round concessions have been implemented by industrialized countries, significant trade barriers in the form of tariff peaks and tariff escalation continue to affect many developing country exports. These will clearly need to be squarely addressed. Meanwhile, sensitive industries in developing countries including small scale industries sustaining a large labour force cannot be allowed to be destroyed.”vi
The TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, (Adopted by the WTO Ministerial Conference of 2001 in Doha on November 14, 2001)

Governments of industrialized countries introduced the TRIPS Agreement in order to obtain worldwide protection for the innovations and technologies generated by their corporations.vii

The TRIPS Agreement was unilaterally oriented in favour of countries with highly-developed pharmaceutical industries, meaning developed countries. The agreement obligated all member states to provide, “a minimum of 20 years patent protection to pharmaceutical products and process, moreover patent holders were not obliged to manufacture the patented product in the country granting the patent.  They could import it and have the monopoly of the market.”viii

The TRIPS Agreement had several serious and unfavourable implications for developing countries, as many of its requirements could place higher obstacles to these countries being able to obtain necessary medicines at affordable prices and for transfer of technology to develop and strengthen their pharmaceutical industry.

India insisted on both performance issues and the fading of the TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) in the area of public health and medicines. Along with Brazil and South Africa, India took the position that, “the TRIPS Agreement should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO Members' right to protect public health and ensure access to medicines for all.”ix This effort led to the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.

A “national health disaster” has been anticipated by the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association as a result of the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement in the country, where only 30% of the population can afford modern medicines in spite of the fact that drug prices in India are one of the lowest in the world.  Comparisons of prices of drugs between India and countries where patent protection exists indicate that in some cases they are 41 times more, than in countries with patent protection (National Working Group on Patent Laws, 1993).

The Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement stated in favour of avoiding patent rights for better access to essential medicines; it recognized the importance of public health problems afflicting many developing countries. Furthermore the declaration affirmed that TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health; recognizing India’s Minister’s concerns about its effect on drug prices.x
The Agriculture Matter

One of the stumbling blocks in the on-going negotiations is agriculture. India is essentially an agrarian economy where over 650 million people are directly dependent on agriculture for their survival.xi A comprehensive and detailed proposal was submitted in January 2001 as part of their ongoing negotiations on agriculture. This proposal remains as one of the longest proposals ever submitted by any member. To understand the reasoning’s behind this proposal and India’s emphasis on self-sufficiency, it becomes necessary for one to remember about the acute shortage of food grain that India had to face during the 1950s and 1960s. It was with the success of the “Green Revolution that helped India overcome its dependence on food aid.xii This would be a good point to look over some brief statistics that indicate why agriculture is very important for them: xiii

  • The share of agriculture in the national GDP is a huge 24%;

  • A little over 700 million people, that is about 69% of the population, are dependent on

the rural economy for their livelihood

  • A very large majority of this rural population survives on an annual per capita income of

US$175 as compared with the current national per capita income of US$480

  • Nearly 70% of cultivable land, that is about 100 million hectares out of 142 million

hectares, continues to be vulnerable to the vagaries of the monsoon; and

Even though India is the second-largest agricultural producer in the world, its yields are still very low when compared with some of the other producers. The features of India's import duty structure represented three challenges facing India during the ongoing Doha round of talks. First, India was asked to lower tariffs. Second, it was asked to set lower bound rates, for both industrial products and agricultural goods, and third but just as important, it was asked to close the gap between bound and applied tariffs. (See Chart 2) “The WTO is aware that even after a decade of tariff reductions, customs duties still provide the Government of India with 20 per cent of gross tax revenue. This, as much as the concerns of domestic industry and agriculture, makes a hasty reduction in duties quite difficult to achieve.”xiv

Agriculture removal of trade subsidies was an important issue for India, the US were asked to lower agriculture subsidies and EU to open its market for farm products from developing countries, more precisely in textile and clothing trade.

In the non-agricultural market, India had strong offensive interests regarding industrial tariffs on products of export interest to the country.

India took the position that while developed countries must remove tariff peaks, India should not be asked to liberalize any further. This meant asking developed countries to eliminate tariff peaks unilaterally. Following trade history, in practice, large countries have only rarely lowered their tariffs unilaterally. As such the demand by India was unworkable. Actually, tariff peaks in textiles and clothing exist today not because developed countries are naturally tending towards inequity against imports from developing countries. Instead, they exist because until recent times, developing countries chose not to participate in multilateral negotiations. As a result, liberalizing deals were limited to developed countries and therefore products that were exported principally by them to one another.

Consequently, India and other developing countries’ demands for review and implementation of the existing treaties must be taken in consideration. The cue to emphasize here is that developing countries have not received trade benefits in order to give up so much in terms of the unpleasant consequences of the TRIPS agreement. Thus, the demands for review of the agreements and their implications and implementation, followed by possible renegotiation of these agreements, are perfectly reasonable demands.

Although India might prove to be one of the biggest losers if global trade talks had failed last year, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said, “The developed countries will have to recognize the essential development character of the current round and reflect this in what they are will to commit to do. Only then will we be in sight of a solution."xv

It is in the hands of the WTO to make trade in agriculture more fair and less inclined. At this point it seems that the rules and the tariffs need to be changed for which the WTO could play the main role.

During his visit to India last year the WTO General Director Pascal Lamy argued that India's dynamic economy would be one of the major victims after the failure of the negotiations in the view of the fact that India’s protectionist policy could remain for the near future. Smaller countries could loose too, since WTO has played the role of an insurance against the pressure of stronger countries in bilateral trade agreements.

The amendment to the TRIPS Agreement (December 6, 2005)

As result of the negotiations and the Doha Declaration that was adopted 5 years ago, the members reached the accord on the Amendment of the TRIPS Agreement. Along with India other developing countries anticipated for the TRIPS Agreement to provide for:xvi

  1. Disclosure of source and country of origin of biological resource and of the traditional

knowledge used in the invention.

  1. Disclosure of evidence of prior informed consent under the relevant national regime

In conclusion, 5 years after the beginning of the Doha Round the figures show that India has benefited generally from trade liberalization. Indian industry is competitive enough for tariffs to be lowered further. Even if certain areas are uncompetitive, measured further opening will do them good. It is well known that India's import tariffs are among the highest in the world.

Proposal on Market Access

India emphasized on the fact that the opening of the markets, in the post Uruguay Round phase, has mostly been observed in the developing countries. Developing countries, which constitutes three-quarters of the WTO membership, sustains approximately 30% of the world trade in agriculture.xvii Western Europe is considered to be one of the most important market for agricultural exports from developing countries.

Other Issues of Concern

When looking at the issue of industrial tariffs, which is another issue of concern, India had provided market access unilaterally since the Uruguay Round - in fact, the overall reduction amounted to 55 percent in the last five years whereas developed countries like the US and the EU had made no reduction at all since the Uruguay Round.xviii

The Journalists’ Eye

Journalists have not spared to put the on-going negotiations of the Doha Round and India’s participation under the lens of a microscope. Mr Pascal Lamy, the visiting Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), stated that India had a large stake in the ongoing negotiations in Doha Development Round in three key areas such as agriculture, industrial tariffs and services.xix “Furthermore, the US has to lower agricultural subsides, while the EU has to increase market access for farm products from developing countries to ensure success of the current round of global trade talks.”xx

In an interview this past summer (July 2006) several journalists, posed Jason Hafemeister, Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Agriculture, and our leader negotiator in the WTO round on agricultural issues several questions. Some key excerpts placed under the microscope were:

  • “Under the WTO rules India is allowed an average tariff in agriculture of 114 percent and their applied tariff, what they actually charge at the border, is only averaging 35 percent. And what India's proposed, as part of their G-20 proposal -- this group of 20 countries, they've put a tariff proposal out there -- that would only cut India's average tariff to 70 percent, twice what they're actually charging.”xxi

  • “So we said we'd like to see a better offer. We'd like to see tariff cuts that really generate new trade flows, because you know right now we've got a trade deficit in agriculture with India, which is a little disconcerting, U.S. -- a very powerful agriculture exporting country, very efficient, great products. I eat them every day. You know, we want to see them out there globally and we'd like to have access to that Indian market. So we're definitely working on them to open up those markets.”xxii


Chart 1: Rates of Growth of world trade in the 1990s


What is at Stake in Doha?, Nov 13th  2001

Chart 2: Developing countries have the biggest difference between bound and applied tariffs



  1. : Doha round: India firm on protecting interests of farmers, by Sushma Ramchandran










  1. - Patent Policies and Pharmaceutical Prices, Dr K Balasubramaniam, October 2004

  2. - OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES TRADE REPRESENTATIVE, December 6, 2005: United States Welcomes Negotiations Leading to Positive Outcome on Enhancing Access to Medicines


i (accessed March 02,2007)

ii (accessed March 02,2007)

iii Srinivasan T.N., India in the Doha Round

iv Papers/doha-epw.pdf

v Papers/doha-epw.pdf


vii (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

viii World Trade Organization – Committee on Agriculture Special Session, 15 January 2001


x World Trade Organization – Committee on Agriculture Special Session, 15 January 2001

xi (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xii (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xiii (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xivhttp://World Trade Organization – Committee on Agriculture Special Session, 15 January 2001p:// Tariff challenge at the WTO, Saturday, July 22, 2002By C. Rammanohar Reddy

xv Papers/doha-epw.pdf

xvi (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xvii World Trade Organization – Committee on Agriculture Special Session, 15 January 2001

xviii (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xix (accessed Feb. 17, 07)

xx (accessed Feb. 17, 07)


xxi (accessed March 02, 2007)

xxii (accessed March 02, 2007)

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