Developing Countries and Their Engagement in the World Trade Organization: An Assessment of the Cancun Ministerial

Posted: 20 Jul 2004

See all articles by Jürgen Kurtz

Jürgen Kurtz

University of Melbourne - Law School


This commentary considers the implications of the failure of the 2003 Cancun Ministerial of the World Trade Organization. In particular, it contests the blunt perspective that the failure of the Ministerial was the result of developing country intransigence. It begins by tracing the growing dissatisfaction of developing countries with the skewed results of the last major negotiating round in Uruguay from 1986 to 1994 which led to the formation of the WTO. Much of that dissatisfaction has centred around the positive harmonisation obligations and contested welfare effects of the minimum level of intellectual property protection mandated by the TRIPS Agreement. This then allows for a contextual analysis of the negotiating agenda finalised at the 2001 Doha Ministerial. On the whole, that agenda clearly prioritised issues of interest to developing countries such as agricultural policy and implementation of existing commitments. The commentary argues that, despite the delicate trade-offs within the Doha negotiating agenda, the 2003 Cancun Ministerial prioritised the so-called Singapore issues of investment, competition policy, government procurement and trade facilitation. Developing country opposition in turn was hardly unexpected as these contentious issues raise legitimate welfare and resource concerns as they represent a further extension of the WTO agenda into behind-the-border regulatory measures. The commentary concludes by considering the implications of the formation and growing assertiveness of the G-20 group of developing countries. It is cautiously optimistic of this development but warns of the implications for developing countries of a shift in trade policy emphasis away from the multilateral to regional and bilateral arenas.

Keywords: WTO, Cancun, Developing Countries, Trade Policy

JEL Classification: F13, O24

Suggested Citation

Kurtz, Jürgen, Developing Countries and Their Engagement in the World Trade Organization: An Assessment of the Cancun Ministerial. Melbourne Journal of International Law, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 280-297, May 2004. Available at SSRN:

Jürgen Kurtz (Contact Author)

University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
613 8344 4770 (Phone)
613 8344 9971 (Fax)

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