Assessing Doha - Progress, Differences

Original Publication Date: 
7 February, 2007

Geneva - Sitting together in a newly constituted General Council, World Trade Organization members yesterday vowed to conclude the Doha trade negotiations - but continued to differ on how to do so, trade diplomats said (WTD, 2/7/07).

The state of play in the "long and sometimes tortuous story" of the Doha trade negotiations, said WTO chief Pascal Lamy, is now in the "last chapter." He noted that ministers in January meeting in Davos agreed that the time has come to move the talks forward, saying there was enough flexibility to breath new life into the negotiations.

Mr. Lamy encouraged members to engage constructively in what he described as the last phase of Doha trade negotiations. He told the envoys that "this deal is do-able."

Outgoing General Council chair Eirik Glenn made a passionate plea urging members to redouble their efforts to conclude the round. In his last speech here, Hong Kong trade representative Tony Miller said the Doha trade agreement is vital to strengthen the global trading regime because it addresses systemic issues in addition to increasing market access flows in farm, industrial goods and services.

During the meeting several coalitions and key members touched on ways to reach a balanced and fair agreement in the three major aspects of the negotiations - agriculture, market-opening for industrial goods and services - and how to ensure transparency and inclusiveness at a time when "quiet diplomacy" is given preeminence. "If we are to achieve the breakthrough that we all seek," it must be in the three pillars - agriculture, nonagricultural market access and services, said US Ambassador Peter Allgeier.

The European Union said Brussels is committed to an ambitious deal as long as it includes Geographical Indications. But, envoy Eckart Guth added, members must shift gears to reach an early agreement. "No issues can be pushed under the carpet for later consideration," said the Indian delegate.

Clearly, the US silence on "rules" will become a major stumbling block to advance the trade negotiations, said South African envoy Faisal Ismail. There has to be at least some modest package that can persuade the "Friends of Antidumping".

Agriculture

Not surprisingly, agriculture came to the forefront of yesterday's discussions. Australia - speaking for the Cairns Group of farm exporting nations - said Doha "must deliver real change to the world's farmers and real development dividends to those farmers in developing countries" by forcing the two trade majors - the United States and the European Union - to bring about significant reductions in their domestic supports. In addition, the EU and the defensive Group-of-10 farm coalition must adopt "transparent" cuts in their farm tariffs and sensible treatment for sensitive products.

On behalf of the Group-of-20 developing nations, Brazilian Ambassador Clodoaldo Hugueney agreed that the major players will have to show movements in both domestic supports and market access. They must show in "deeds" their readiness to strive for compromises. He said the G-20 proposals are at the "center of gravity" in all three pillars of the agriculture talks - market access, trade-distorting domestic support and export competition. "There should be a convergence towards them."

While Australia was silent on the just-announced US farm bill proposal, the G-20 spoke its mind (see related report this issue). It said the proposal does not go far enough to accomplish the twin-objectives of effective reductions in applied levels of domestic support and product-specific disciplines. Though there are positive aspects in the US plan, "the volume of resources still available for trade-distorting programs is not consistent with the need for effective cuts," said Ambassador Clodoaldo.

In response, US's Allgeier cautioned members not to jump to conclusions, saying "there will be many curves, dips, rises - maybe even detours - in the legislative road to US farm reform in the coming months." He agreed with Australia's assessment that success in the round depends on a strong outcome in market access as well as subsidies.

The developing-country NAMA-11 coalition said it is seeking a "fair, balanced and development oriented" set of negotiating modalities that place development at the core of the final outcome and ensures less-than-full reciprocity in reduction commitments for developing countries.

NAMA

South African trade representative Faisal Ismail said the outcome in the nonagricultural market access talks must have a "comparable level of ambition with agricultural market access" and "appropriate flexibilities to manage adjustment costs." He said flexibilities in "paragraph eight" "are the bare minimum and should be adjusted upwards to enable" developing countries to address their sensitive products.

Argentina complained that while industrialized countries have yet to agree on how to treat sensitive farm products from developing countries, they continue to insist on enhanced market access for sensitive industrial products in those countries.

Speaking for the "cotton-four" countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, the Chadian representative lamented the lack of progress on the cotton issue. However, he welcomed a special high-level meeting announced by Director General Lamy on cotton set for March 15 and 16 in Geneva on the issue.