The Hong Kong Ministerial Conference represented a modest but useful step forward in the Doha Round. The Ministerial Declaration provides a basis for further negotiation with a view to the completion of the Doha Round in 2006. The atmospherics of the meeting were positive, but no significant progress was made on the toughest issues, especially the key area of agricultural market access.
Key elements of the declaration include:
- A reaffirmation of members' commitment to the Doha mandate and the July 2004 framework;
- Commitment by members to the elimination by 2013 of all forms of agricultural export subsidies;
- A deadline of 30 April 2006 for modalities on agriculture and NAMA (industrials), with revised schedules to be submitted by 31 July 2006;
- Agreement to use a "Swiss" tariff-cutting formula with the potential to produce an ambitious result on industrials (but still a long way to go to achieve that outcome);
- Maintenance of the basis for further work on Services;
- A significant Aid for Trade package;
- An agreement on the difficult cotton issue;
- A commitment by developed countries and those developing countries in a position to do so, to provide duty and quota-free access to most goods from LDCs.
The meeting was seen by most as a useful, but modest step forward. It nevertheless leaves much to be done in a very short period of time in 2006, and has not substantively addressed the critical issue of agricultural market access, on which the ultimate success of the Round will hinge.