News services have all picked up a statement by the U.S. negotiator for agriculture in WTO in which he claims there’s been “some progress” in the Doha negotiations in the past six months but it looks like there’ll beno new rules ahead of the U.S. Congress extending the farm bill subsidies in 2012.
“Some progress”?! Judge for yourself. Below, I reproduce three paragraphs of an un-official WTO Secretariat report of the agriculture negotiating group meeting at the end of last month (September, 2010). Pure farce — albeit all too familiar.
The background is that for more than a year officials in a few developed countries have been trying to move the talks along by preparing some “mock-ups” of the schedules of commitments that would be made by each WTO member country if the proposals last discussed in December 2008 were actually adopted (ugh!). The idea is that these “templates” would try to make sense of the gobbledygook by translating the multiple overlay of rules and exceptions and compensating options into numbers — e.g. tariff and budget cuts, quota expansion etc. — on domestic support, export subsidies and market access. They would allow negotiators to see the cash value of the deal… sort of…
Here’s what happened. Warning: diplomatic euphemisms ahead. I’ll try to break them down for you:
“The work on templates has highlighted some ambiguities, or lack of clarity, in the December 2008 draft “modalities”, which contains formulas for cutting tariffs and subsidies, a wide range of flexibilities for deviating from the formulas, and rules and disciplines. Translation: “Who knows what this stuff means!?”
This also sparked some discussion in the meeting. Some countries are calling for separate or “parallel” discussions on the ambiguities and other issues arising from the 2008 draft, arguing that the modalities determine the templates and therefore problems in the modalities should be tackled first. These countries are led by China, India and Argentina, who have a proposed list of issues needing to be tackled.Translation: Most of the group wants to start over (as if ten years weren’t enough)…”
Some others argue that some of the ambiguities can be sorted out within the discussions on templates, because it is the work on the templates that has revealed problems with the modalities — the templates serving as a testing ground for the modalities. These include the EU and Uruguay. Pakistan described the exercise as “iterative”, ie, going back and forth between the two areas of work.“Translation: …the rest want to tinker some more… or maybe stand on one leg and hum.”