Very Quiet Talks In London

Original Publication Date: 
25 February, 2007

Geneva - The United States refused to tip its hand on what more it will offer to negotiators at the Doha Development Agenda on agricultural domestic spending during a nearly week-long high-level session in London last week with the European Union, India, Brazil and Japan (WTD, 2/23/07).

Special US agriculture negotiator Richard Crowder explained that any discussion on figures is premature at this stage - but indicated the United States is ready to focus on the elements and principles of a general package that it can submit to Congress this spring - before the expiration of critical Trade Promotion Authority, sources said.

The United States pressed the other key members on how far they can go in addressing US market access demands.

A discussion of disciplines for product-specific spending caps also took place, sources added.
The EU, Brazil and India continue their hard line that Washington will have to adopt stringent disciplines in the "amber" and "blue" boxes in final agreement as well as take steeper cuts in its overall trade-distorting domestic supports. Brussels has insisted on an overall cut in trade-distorting spending of $15 billion with disciplines; Brazil and India want the United States to agree to the Group-of-20 proposal of a 70-percent cut as well as disciplines.

On market access, the London meetings focused largely on the treatment of sensitive products for the EU and Japan. "Special products" treatment along with the "special safeguard mechanism" was the focus of the discussions for India. WTD was told there was no resolution of the difficult issues although some progress was made on flexibilities and the "red lines" for each of the participants.

More Bilaterals

The London meetings will be followed by a ministerial session between Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim and his Indian counterpart Kamal Nath in Geneva next Monday. Unconfirmed reports suggest that EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson may hold meetings with his Brazilian and Indian counterparts.

Meanwhile on Friday, the chair for Doha Development Agenda farm negotiations, Crawford Falconer, made it known that time is running out - and progress at both the bilateral and multilateral levels in the next few weeks is crucial, trade diplomats said. He told members at an informal agriculture meeting that the key players should feed results of their deliberations into the multilateral process without delay.

Ambassador Falconer is concerned that many members are getting restive about the way things are done outside of Geneva to which they are not a party, trade diplomats said.

The agriculture negotiations chair told members he will prepare a text based on what was accomplished last year so members can begin work in the coming days. He emphasized the need to connect both bilateral and multilateral meetings in a meaningfully ways, suggesting that a breakthrough among key players is essential. "Obviously there's much less chance of success if there's no input from them," he said.

In Washington yesterday, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab told a C-SPAN newsmaker program that some progress was made in the London meeting. She said the meeting followed on quiet success of previous informal sessions among the key players - with more to come.

The final measure of success, Ms. Schwab added, is the number of new proposals that get to the negotiating table. So far there has been none.

Ms. Schwab said some progress has been made on the Doha agriculture issues - albeit it slowly - with the European Union in recent weeks. Slow but steady progress is being made with Brazil and Japan is making a effort to become a player. Australia, she stated, has always been a strong advocate in the talks. The sticking point remains India - which is less inclined to be proactive. She expressed hope that India would be part of the final solution.

A successful Doha round, the USTR stated, will depend on real trade flows across all sectors and among all participants.