A Critical London Meeting

Original Publication Date: 
7 March, 2006
US Trade Representative Rob Portman and visiting Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile agreed yesterday that Saturday's Group-of-Six ministerial meeting in London will be crucial to the timely outcome of the Doha Development Agenda (WTD, 3/7/06).

While the meeting is not designed as a decision-making session, Mr. Portman told reporters after a bilateral session with Mr. Vaile that the trade ministers from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Brazil, India and Japan must make at least some preliminary decisions to keep the negotiations moving toward agreement on full modalities by the end-of-April deadline. Numbers for the tariff-cutting formulas in agriculture and nonagricultural market access including the thresholds for the various bands as well as consensus on "special products", tariff caps and tariff-rate quotas must be in hand by April 30 so country-specific tariff lines can be developed by July.

'Dancing' Around the Issues

Negotiators have been "dancing" around those issues for some time, Mr. Vaile continued. He said the time has come for making decisions and that there cannot be a further extension of the four-year-old negotiations.

USTR Portman said he was concerned that other countries have not come forward with good market-opening proposals in either agriculture or industrials that can set the track toward agreement on final modalities. But Mr. Portman said he is hoping for a "breakthrough" this weekend.

The two trade ministers met for the first annual meeting under the US-Australia free trade agreement. Two-way trade, Mr. Portman noted, has skyrocketed during the period. Both also discussed unfinished business of the FTA including continued US quotas on sugar imports and Australia's pricing system for medicines.

Since the FTA entered into force in 2005, US goods exports to Australia are up 10.9 percent from 2004 to $15.8 billion. Two-way trade in services although not yet tallied * also jumped over the past 14 months.