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It was agreed at the Doha Ministerial meeting that negotiations on trade and investment would take place after the next ministerial meeting, at Cancun in September 2003, after a decision was taken by consensus on what the modalities (agreements) for pursuing these negotiations would be. It was also agreed that until then WTO members would advance their discussions in the Working Group on Trade and Investment on the possible elements of a multilateral investment framework. However, no consensus was reached at the Cancun meeting and members agreed on 1 August 2004 that trade and investment would be dropped from the Doha agenda.
At the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Singapore Ministerial meeting in 1996, four issues were identified for the WTO agenda: investment, competition policy, transparency in government procurement, and trade facilitation. These issues, widely known as the “ Singapore issues”, were put forward at the WTO Doha Ministerial meeting in 2001.
Between the Doha and Cancun meetings, the Working Group on Trade and Investment discussed the issues relating to an investment framework that were set out in the Doha mandate:
However, as the most controversial of the four Singapore issues, there was division between the proponents of a multilateral investment framework, and the opponents, largely developing countries. While countries such as the EU and Japan were strongly in favour of proceeding to negotiate on all four Singapore issues, some developing countries, led by India, were vehemently opposed to launching negotiations on the four issues, in particular, on investment. They expressed concerns regarding the uncertain scope of the proposed framework, a lack of technical capacity and resources to implement multilateral frameworks on these issues. Given these divisions, there was no consensus prior to the Ministerial meeting in Cancun on the shape of future negotiations.
Two alternatives were presented to Ministers in the Draft Cancun Ministerial Text [external link to the Fifth Ministerial Meeting section of the WTO website] prepared by the Chairman of the WTO General Council but never agreed by Delegations. The first option was to agree to commence negotiations on the basis of modalities agreed upon at Cancun. The second option was to return investment to the Working Group for further clarification of the issues, postponing the commencement of negotiations until an undetermined later date.
Given the degree of polarisation, consensus on how to proceed with any of the Singapore issues could not be reached at the Cancun meeting, resulting in the decision to close the Ministerial. The concluding statement by the Ministerial Conference Chair, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Derbez, notes that, while Members undertake to maintain the high level of convergence that has been reached in some areas, more work needs to be done in some other key areas to enable Members to proceed towards the conclusion of the negotiations and fulfilment of the Doha commitments. No formal decision was therefore taken at Cancun on the future of the Singapore issues.
After the breakdown of talks at Cancun WTO members began efforts to put the negotiations and the work programme back on track. On 31 July 2004, a framework package to guide the next phase of the Doha Round negotiations was agreed in Geneva by the WTO General Council. Competition policy, along with trade and investment, and transparency in government procurement were dropped from the Doha agenda, and the Working Group is no longer meeting.