Global Policy Forum

The WTO's Sixth Ministerial Conference


Hong Kong, China
December 13 - 18, 2005

In December 2005, trade ministers from 149 countries gathered in Hong Kong for the 6th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This meeting could have been the final step of the Doha trade talks launched in 2001. Also known as the "Development Round," the Doha negotiations are supposed to favor trade interests of poor countries, contributing to a more equal global trade system. On the last day in Hong Kong, the WTO member countries, some pressured strongly by foreign economic and political interests, presented a common Ministerial Declaration. Poor countries conceded to rich countries' interests in freeing trade in industrial goods and services in exchange for some concessions on export subsidies for agricultural goods. The European Union promised to eliminate export subsidies by 2013. Nevertheless, this form of subsidy accounts for as little as 3.5% of EU's overall agricultural support. Thus, it will not significantly improve poor countries' export opportunities to the European markets. While the "failure" of Cancun had leveled the WTO playing field, temporarily ending the "duopoly" of the US and the EU, the wins and losses for poor countries in Hong Kong are less clear. During the ongoing WTO negotiations in 2006, poor countries and NGOs must keep up the pressure on the governments of rich countries to ensure trade that favors real development.

The Ministerial Conference and Its Follow-Up | Lead-Up Process | Links

WTO Ministerial Declaration (December 18, 2005)
On the last day of the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Hong Kong, 149 member governments approved this final declaration. Many rich governments described the outcome as "significant progress," while NGOs see it as a rejection of the development promises made to poor countries in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.


The Ministerial Conference and Its Follow-Up

A Recipe for Disaster: Will the Doha Round Fail to Deliver Development? (April 2006)
According to this report, the likelihood that poor countries will benefit from World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations looks "increasingly slim." Oxfam advises poor countries not to accept a deal unless rich countries offer better access to their markets, deeper cuts to trade-distorting agricultural subsidies and a revision of their subsidy rules. In addition, rich countries' pressure for Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA) could force poor countries to "dramatically and permanently" open their fledgling industrial markets.

A Floundering WTO – Part II (March 23, 2006)
After the 5th WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun in 2003, collective bargaining seemed like a good bet for poor countries to make their voices heard. In 2006 however, "multilateralism, as we know, is comatose, if not dead." Big developing nations, such as Brazil, India and China, only stick to Third World Coalitions as long as it suits their own interests. Yale Global encourages less influential poor countries to reinforce their alliances with NGOs to counterbalance their loss of political power.

A Floundering WTO – Part I (March 21, 2006)
If World Trade Organization (WTO) member states do not agree on farm and manufacturing trade reforms by April 30, 2006 the Doha trade round will likely end in failure. In addition, when US Congress's "fast track" authority over trade talks expires in July 2007, agreements will become even more difficult. To fulfill their promises to facilitate poor countries' development, rich countries have to substantially open their markets to poor countries imports. (Yale Global)

Critical WTO Negotiations Go Underground (March 8, 2006)
As the trade negotiations following the WTO conference in Hong Kong intensify, rich countries discuss many of the remaining issues in small and exclusive conferences. Focus on the Global South warns that these arrangements further undermine poor countries' ability to benefit from the Doha trade round. The publication also looks at the progress made to liberalize agricultural, non-agricultural and service markets.

It Takes More than Free Trade to End Poverty (February 3, 2006)
In 2005, rich countries once again prevented the World Trade Organization (WTO) from turning into a real development tool. They refused to make multilateral concessions like cutting tariffs on agricultural and industrial goods coming from poor countries. According to Joseph Stiglitz, the Hong Kong summit did not generate a deal, but only an agreement about the way forward. As long as the US and EU take advantage of their power in bilateral trade talks and refuse to support development-friendly trade, the Doha round is unlikely to succeed. (Independent)

The Post-Hong Kong Blues (February 2006)
The World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Hong Kong, failed to clarify the most crucial details of its joint declaration. World Economy & Development in brief predicts intense negotiations in 2006 encouraging poor countries to keep a strong common position to defend their interests. But more importantly, the article argues, governments must consider alternative proposals to reform the international trade system. For example, new trade rules should oblige all countries to provide free market access to every country that is poorer and smaller than themselves.

Geneva Update: Breaking Out of the Mould (January 17, 2006)
The outcome of the 6th World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference moves the Doha round further away from its initial development objectives. The US and the EU refused to make any serious concessions on agricultural trade. The article argues that the reduction of export subsidies is just a drop of cold water on a hot stone. In addition, the decisions on non-agricultural trade will likely harm poor economies and reduce their political sovereignty. (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy)

Back to Work in the WTO, With Empty Hands (December 30, 2005)
The article looks at the ongoing negotiations inside of the World Trade Organization after the disillusioning outcome of the Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. The transfer of the General Council presidency to a rich country will diminish poor countries' chances to see any substantial progress within the Doha Round. To make things worse, rich countries plan to eventually focus all their power on service liberalization while overlooking the never-ending standstill in agricultural trade negotiations. (Inter Press Service)

After Hong Kong: Battle Will Resume January 2006 (December 19, 2005)
The outcome draft declaration of the Hong Kong meeting includes both positive and negative points, argues this article. Rich countries agreed to end all export subsides by 2013 (reducing them "substantially" in the meantime) and, in particular, to cut off cotton subsidies by next year. In return, poor countries will have to accelerate service sector liberalization. As many foresaw, the document reflects a "lowered agreement." (World Economy and Development in Brief)

Modest Deal Offered to Poorest Nations (December 18, 2005)
The 50 Least Developed Countries are not going to benefit from the development package that rich countries offered at the Hong Kong meeting. The agenda is still focused mainly on trade rather than development and the text of the agreement does not provide binding rules for rich nations. Some NGO representatives called this market-oriented deal an "insult" to poor people. (Inter Press Service)

Lead-Up Process

Hong Kong Phooey (December 14, 2005)
In the run-up to the Hong Kong meeting, many representatives of NGOs and poor countries asked the EU and the US to cut their agricultural subsidies, arguing that this would guarantee a real "free market." But according to this article, market access will not necessarily bring economic justice to poor countries. Without land reform, anti-trust laws and regional trade promotion, poor people will not be able to escape poverty. (TomPaine)

What's at Play at the WTO (December 12, 2005)
If the World Trade Organization negotiations are like a complex game of cards, then the wealthiest countries (the US, EU and their allies) are the dealers, says this International Relations Center article. The "dealers" in this "fixed game" intend to help out corporations, rather than promoting social welfare and development in the global South. Poor countries should not take part in a game where "so few win and so many lose."

Fair Trade for None (December 9, 2005)
The WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong could be the last step of the Doha Development Round. According to economist Joseph Stiglitz, the Doha Round "does not deserve" to have the word "development" in its name. From the start of Doha negotiations, rich countries have gotten what they want, while doing "nothing for a decade" to meet poor countries' requests. Stiglitz warns that, this time, poor countries might not accept another unfair deal. (Project Syndacate)

The Ghost of NAFTA Past: A Decade of Bad Results (November 29, 2005)
Negotiations about the Andean Free Trade Agreement and the Southern African Customs Union collapsed. Rich and poor countries will have difficultly in reaching an agreement at the World Trade Organization's conference in Hong Kong. As the author points out, the neoliberal model is facing a crisis. After decades, poor people are still waiting to see the benefits of the past decades' privatization and liberalization policies. (Public Citizen)

WTO Draft Ministerial Text (November 26, 2005)
World Trade Organization (WTO) member states will discuss the draft text at the ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December 2005. According to NGOs, the text does not even bring development issues to the negotiating table. Instead, the document urges poor countries to further liberalize their markets, a move that could wipe out many small-scale producers. After 10 years, the WTO has not changed its strategies.

Nothing to Gain, Everything to Lose (November 25, 2005)
The draft text of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Sixth Ministerial Conference indicates that poor countries and the EU/US still disagree on key negotiating points such as agriculture and services. This article questions the WTO's structure, arguing that its rules and principles promote "corporate monopoly" and "anti development" policies. A collapse in Hong Kong's negotiations would therefore be a "positive development" that could create new opportunities for poor countries. "There is life after the WTO," the author argues. (Focus on the Global South)

Drop Expectations from WTO Meet (November 8, 2005)
Official representatives from the EU, US, Brazil and India met informally in London to discuss proposals for the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. The EU proposed to cut tariffs and subsidies on agricultural goods, but their cuts are still far from the requests of the poor countries. In turn, the Indian minister said that his country "would not even consider" EU's demands on services liberalization. In such a context of opposing viewpoints, WTO members are losing hope about reaching full agreement and positively ending the Doha Round of talks. (Inter Press Service)

WTO Members Wait for Action to Shift from London to Geneva (November 7, 2005)
The preparatory meetings of the 6th WTO Ministerial Conference represents a test of whether WTO members will achieve consensus or if they will have to lower their expectations in Hong Kong. Poor countries remain on the opposite side of the US and EU on issues like agricultural subsidies and liberalization of services. (Third World Network)

On the Road to Hong Kong: Gender-Fair Trade? (November 6, 2005)
World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy classified free trade and open markets as a "fundamentally important" tool for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and tackling poverty. However, this article points out that such neoliberal policies have not only failed to free people from poverty, but also contributed to a "feminization" of poverty. This article urges WTO members to focus the next meeting in Hong Kong on fair trade rules and social and economic rights, with particular attention to gender equity. (World Economy and Development in brief)

Sailing Close to the Wind - Navigating the WTO Hong Kong Ministerial (November 2005)
This document from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a good tool for understanding the WTO Hong Kong negotiations. The document provides explanations and details of key issues such as agriculture, food aid, nonagricultural market access, services and human rights. In short, the report engages readers in the trade debate and contributes to making the World Trade Organization more open and inclusive.

The WTO 6th Ministerial: People Power vs Corporate Power (November 2005)
Over the past ten years, the World Trade Organization's agreements "served to strengthen the monopolist power" of transnational corporations. The previous ministerial conferences ended in a deadlock and the Hong Kong meeting risks ending the same way. While the results of previous "failures" have represented a people's victory against the powerful business community, this article warns that, in Hong Kong, such an outcome would not represent a step forward. In fact, "corporations would still maintain their immense economic power […] over the world economy." (IBON)

Leaked Documents Reveal EU Plans to Force Open Developing Country Service Markets (October 28, 2005)
The UK Trade Secretary Alan Johnson stated publicly that poor countries must be free to decide "what, when and how" to open their markets. However, the World Development Movement found unreleased documents showing that the European Union plans to force liberalization by introducing mandatory targets for poor countries at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, "this is a classic example of how WTO works," says this article.

Open Letter to WTO Director General Pascal Lamy (October 27, 2005)
In the lead-up to the 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, several NGOs and trade unions wrote a letter to World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy. Focusing on the draft of the Ministerial Text, the letter targets the text's "lack of inclusiveness" for poor countries and the introduction of "numerical targets and indicators" on liberalization of services.

Africa Urges Removal of Subsidies to Fight Poverty (October 21, 2005)
The EU and the US are not the only ones worried about another possible "failure" at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference. Many Africans worry that such an outcome would cause the most damage to their continent. African countries are trying to create a "united front" for the next negotiations. As this article points out, after expressing progressive commitments, it is also time for the US and the EU to present a concrete position. (East African Standard)

G20 Proposals on Agriculture (Market Access, Domestic Support) (October 13, 2005)
At the World Trade Organization conference in Hong Kong, trade ministers will discuss the proposals by the Group of 20 developing countries regarding market access and domestic support, including agricultural subsidies. The G20 asks rich countries to cut tariffs about 54%, allowing poor countries to not cut more than 36%. The group also asks governments to cut up to 80% of their "trade-distorting domestic support" to achieve a fairer global trade system. (Third World Network)

Fair Trade Rules! (October 2005)
Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are fond of calling the Doha Round the "development round." However, as this paper from the International Fair Trade Movement points out, two fundamental factors are missing from its agenda: Nations' rights to food security and sovereignty. If the next WTO Ministerial Conference is to really address development, members should promote "fair trade rules" that provide land distribution, government regulation and protection of local markets.

In the Name of Development: Whose Ambitions for the Doha Round? (August 19, 2005)
The Uruguay Round results have shown that opening markets in countries without a stable fiscal and political system worsens economic and social conditions. Nevertheless, the next Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December 2005, will involve negotiations over the liberalization of agricultural products, industrial products, raw materials and service providers. The author notes that rich countries do not favor trade rules that reflect the interest of the majority of WTO members and warns that, instead, "those who need the most actually stand to lose the most."(Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy)

Are the WTO Talks in Trouble? Don't Bet on It (August 16, 2005)
Poor countries and their supporters welcomed the failure of the World Trade Organization General Council Meeting in Geneva. This article warns, however, that the absence of results may set the stage for a "successful" later meeting in Hong Kong in December. Analyzing the Geneva negotiations, the author warns that poor countries may see their policy options drastically reduced. To avoid such an outcome, NGOs and other citizen groups must push for a fair trade system. (Transnational Institute)

It's a Long, Bumpy Road to the Next Doha Round (July 25, 2005)
As the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in December 2005 approaches, many bones of contention remain between rich and poor countries. To overcome the hurdles and reach a trade deal that would alleviate global poverty, rich countries should take Africa's special needs into account. A successful trade deal should consist of multilateral trade liberalization in products of export interest to African countries, measures to compensate African nations for their possible losses if their goods lose preferential duty-free treatment in Western markets, and investments in trade-related capacity-building and infrastructure. (Guardian)

Make a Difference for Poverty Reduction at the Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong (June 2005)
Agriculture is vital to economic growth in poor countries and trade ministers will discuss this controversial issue at the WTO conference in Hong Kong. This report stresses that the WTO's one-size-fits-all approach to agricultural policies creates "new injustices" and favors large-scale and industrial farming models at the expense of small-scale farmers. Trade can promote the Millennium Development Goals only if Northern countries stop dumping subsidized exports in poor countries. (CIDSE-Caritas Internationalis)

Fast Food Seeks Influence in WTO (April 19, 2005)
Major US fast-food producers are taking an interest in the Hong Kong WTO meeting, where the Doha Round of trade negotiations will continue. These corporations are hoping to influence the talks by holding meetings with high-level US negotiators and publicizing the "benefits" of "freer food trade" through the formation of the Food Trade Alliance. While NGOs and civil society groups are left no choice but to voice their opinions on the streets of Hong Kong, big business and transnational corporations get a front-row seat at the trade talks. (Wall Street Journal)

From Cancun to Hong Kong: WTO Update (March 2005)
This Center of Concern report provides an overview of the current situation of the World Trade Organization trade talks. After the collapse in Cancun in September 2003, the parties agreed to return to the negotiation table, but little has changed: poor countries still struggle to gain market access for their products, while rich nations are reluctant to do away with their agricultural subsidies and other barriers of trade. Moreover, the increasing number of bilateral and regional trade negotiations has weakened the position of poor countries that have very little bargaining power against wealthy trade partners when alone at the negotiation table.

Links and Resources

The World Trade Organization
Link to the official website of the World Trade Organization.

The Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference (December 13-18, 2005)
Link to the official page of the 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong.

Doha WTO Ministerial Declaration (November 14, 2001)
The World Trade Organization adopted this declaration at the 2001 Fouth Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, to assist developing countries in implementing WTO agreements, covering issues related to agriculture, services, industrial tariffs, investment, trade and competition policy. (WTO)

Center for Sustainable Trade and Development (ICTSD)
A Geneva based organization that plays a non-partisan role in informing the public on trade issues and engaging in on-going dialogue with various international actors. The site includes full coverage of the Cancun conference and the weekly publication of Bridges, a trade news digest.

International Fair Trade Fair
A trade fair taking place parallel to the WTO Cancun ministerial conference, promoting ‘fair trade' as an alternative to ‘free trade'.

Investment Watch
This site monitors the Multilateral Investment Agreement, which aims to expand the mandate of the WTO to foreign investment, significantly reducing the abilities of poorer WTO members to manage foreign investments effectively.

The Trade Observatory
The new home of WTO Watch, which reports on the World Trade Organization's upcoming and daily events in Cancun, along with live and archived multimedia reporting from delegates, officials, community leaders and activists throughout the Conference.



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