World Trade Organization Negotiations: The Doha Development Agenda

Publication Date: August 2008

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Trade



The World Trade Organization's (WTO) Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations was suspended in July 2006 after key negotiating groups failed to break a deadlock on agricultural tariffs and subsidies. The negotiations, which were launched at the 4th WTO Ministerial in 2001 at Doha, Qatar, have been characterized by persistent differences between the United States, the European Union, and developing countries on major issues, such as agriculture, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, services, and trade remedies. Depending on the outcome, some U.S. industries may gain access to foreign markets, and others may see increased competition from imports. Likewise, some U.S. workers may be helped through increased access to foreign markets, but others may be hurt by import competition.

Because of the negotiating stalemate, it is considered unlikely that an agreement can be reached before the expiration of TPA. The impasse has almost certainly put negotiators beyond the reach of agreement before U.S. trade promotion authority (TPA) expires on July 1, 2007. (Under TPA, the President must give a 90-day notification to Congress of his intent to sign an FTA, thus making the de facto deadline April 2, 2007, for reaching an agreement.) More likely, the parties will attempt to restart the negotiations in order achieve some measure of progress in the hope that the 110th Congress may extend TPA. Thus, Congressional consideration of TPA extension legislation may provide a venue for a debate on the status of the Round and the prospects for reaching an agreement consistent with principles set forth by Congress in granting TPA.

Agriculture has become the linchpin in the Doha Development Agenda. U.S. goals are substantial reduction of trade-distorting domestic support; elimination of export subsidies, and improved market access. The state of the negotiations may impact the 2007 farm bill. Many had looked to a Doha Round agreement to curb trade-distorting domestic support as a catalyst to change U.S. farm subsidies, but this source of pressure for change has dissipated with the Doha impasse. Congress may also consider legislation to amend U.S. patent law to implement the TRIPS access to medicine decision, one of the few achievement of the round to date. In addition, Members of Congress may carefully scrutinize any agreement that may require changes to U.S. trade remedy laws.

Three issues are among the most important to developing countries, in addition to concessions on agriculture. One issue, now resolved, pertained to compulsory licensing of medicines and patent protection. A second deals with a review of provisions giving special and differential treatment to developing countries. A third addresses problems that developing countries are having in implementing current trade obligations.