The WTO Doha negotiations are often referred to as a "development round." Yet that characterization is controversial, due to weaknesses in the Doha Declaration and limited progress in the early negotiations. This paper offers a comprehensive assessment of the Doha Round from the perspective of development policy. It draws on recent summit-level commitments on development, initiatives by development organizations, and policy analyses by scholars and NGOs. Together, these instruments establish a coherent and highly legitimate set of global norms on development. Trade negotiations like Doha are poorly suited to many aspects of development policy. Yet they can still make major contributions: e.g., by modifying trade rules that impede development, giving priority to issues of concern to developing countries (DCs), allowing DCs to implement market reforms gradually while developing appropriate social policies and institutions, and providing for full DC participation in WTO affairs. Thus, the WTO should not leave development policy to multilateral development banks and other specialized organizations, but rather should strengthen its collaboration with them to more effectively promote development. The paper identifies two schools of thought on reform of the trade regime among development specialists. (1) An "enlightened standard view" emphasizes access to Northern markets for DC exports, especially in sectors like labor-intensive manufactures and agriculture; complementary policy changes within DCs (including market reforms and social policies); aid for trade and reform; and improved WTO participation. (2) A more critical view also calls for rebalancing TRIPs and other agreements, enhancing special and differential treatment (SDT), exempting DCs from inappropriate institutional requirements, and acting on important issues like food security and access to medicines. The Doha Declaration authorized negotiations on some issues in both groups, while giving unprecedented rhetorical prominence to development. However, it failed to act on other issues, or did so only in limited ways, e.g., by requiring new DC concessions as the price of rule modifications. The first 18 months of negotiations have also been troubling: Stalemates on agriculture and other central issues have thrown the timetable of the Round into doubt, and governments appear reluctant to give concrete effect to the rhetoric of the Declaration, deadlocking on SDT, TRIPs and public health, and other development issues, mainly along North-South lines. The paper concludes by outlining strategies of political action that advocates might adopt to restore development concerns to the heart of the Round. These include hard bargaining at the Cancun ministerial meeting and in other settings, invocation of accepted norms and commitments, and public diplomacy.

Date of this Version

August 2003