As the fourth World Trade Organisation drew to a close on Wednesday trade ministers from 142 countries reached a final agreement on a new round of global trade talks after their six-day meeting in Doha, Qatar. WTO member governments approved a work programme - which they called "broad and balanced" - that includes negotiations on a range of subjects and other tasks for the coming years.
"The success of our conference at this difficult time is … especially important as a reaffirmation of the determination of the international community to work together to respond to these challenges for a better future," said Conference chairman, Qatari Finance, Economy and Trade Minister Youssef Hussain Kamal.
Director-General Mike Moore said: "This conference has been a remarkable experience for all of us. It has been difficult, because we have been dealing with some of the most sensitive issues in international trade policy, and many governments have had to move towards the positions of their partners to make this agreement possible."
A statement from the European Union commented that the EU recognised from the outset that a new trade round could only be launched if there were demonstrable progress on implementation issues raised by a group of developing countries. That progress has now been made and the decisions reached at Doha and indeed before Doha have resolved a number of problems.
A particularly sensitive subject for Europe is the launch of discussions to gradually phase out farm subsidies but Pascal Lamy, EU Trade Commissioner was decidedly upbeat at the close of the conference.
"The EU kept it head, held its nerve - and its unity - and I believe this has paid dividends," he said at the closing press conference.
"I came here with a clear mandate from the EU 15 and it is satisfying, as a negotiator, to be told by the Council and by our European Parliamentarians given in Doha, that we have satisfactorily negotiated a package consistent with that mandate.
We sought comprehensive trade liberalisation, not least to restore business confidence … We wanted legitimacy not just liberalisation and a strengthening of the rules-based trade system.
And most importantly, a Round which focuses on development. Not just the direct trade interests of developing countries, but sustainable development in the system," Lamy continued.
UNICE, the European Federation of Employers, and ESF, the European Services Forum, welcomed the new trade negotiations. "In the current climate of economic and political uncertainty, this decision is a significant step towards restoring confidence in the multilateral system and strengthening international economic governance", both organisations state in a press release. However, they are "disappointed by the postponement of the start of negotiations on investment, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement, which are all essential for the development of international trade."
The new Doha Round will start in January 2002 and is scheduled to be finished by 1 January 2005.