The Doha Development Agenda, launched in November 2001, in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed to free global trade by cutting industrial and agricultural tariffs and by reducing farm subsidies, with a special focus on achieving concrete benefits for developing countries.
But WTO members refused to budge on issues such as the lowering of tariffs on certain goods, during the final Doha round of WTO (World Trade Organisation) trade talks last summer. The talks have since been suspended.
The debate now appears to be polarised around two competing approaches.
The US and other main exporters tend to attribute the potential benefits from trade liberalisation almost exclusively to increased market access via tariff cuts and tariff quotas, often downplaying the role of domestic reform on trade.
The World Bank recently concluded that the lions share (93 per cent) of the benefits from trade liberalisation comes from more market access, and seems to be supported by a more recent OECD study, that arrives at a corresponding figure of 79 per cent for market access.
Others argue that the debate should be exclusively about subsidies. Sometimes this is simply a defensive argument used to justify high tariffs. But it is also used as an argument against any type of policy supporting agriculture in the developed world.
"The argument for a more balanced approach, which has to be the basis of any successful negotiation, is often caught in the cross-fire of the partial, yet powerful, trade talk of some of the major players," said the EC.
"And what is lost in the process is the understanding that the benefits from agricultural trade liberalisation will come from the cumulative effect of cuts in all three pillars of agricultural support (domestic support, export subsidies and tariff protection)."
The EC argues that both tariffs and trade distorting subsidies create trade distortions and have to be disciplined. It also argues that players should take into account the cumulative effect generated by imposing disciplines in these two areas, and especially the impact of domestic reform on trade.
In addition the EC said that current analyses of trade liberalisation often fail to capture the cumulative impact of reform.
"It is only by looking at actual trade flows and actual markets, including the differences in the trade structure of WTO players, that a clear picture about the potential benefits of trade liberalisation can emerge," said the MAP report.
In essence, bridging the existing gap between what the EC calls the trade talk and the trade walk is essential in order to reach an agreement in the context of DDA. How close such an agreement would be to the former or the latter, said the EC, is for negotiators to determine.