Battle at the buffet table

The nego­ti­a­tions entered a new phase ear­ly Sat­ur­day after­noon with the issue of a new ‘chair­mans’ text’ (more details below). We’re now at Step 4[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] in the nego­ti­a­tions where most of the bar­gain­ing takes place. This revised Chair­man’s text is under detailed dis­cus­sion in small­er groups of key coun­tries chaired by the Chair­man of the Min­is­te­r­i­al Meet­ing (Mex­i­can Trade Min­is­ter, Der­bez), com­ple­ment­ed to some extent by nation­al state­ments in the ‘ple­nary’ meet­ings. One way to describe the sit­u­a­tion is that this huge meet­ing, spread out over a 15km stretch of the Can­cun penin­su­la, present­ly resem­bles a very con­fused ‘pot-luck’ buf­fet to which the din­ers have con­tributed plates of every vari­ety from soup to dessert. Many of the dish­es are poor­ly pre­pared and some of them prob­a­bly taste every bit as bad as they seem. The buf­fet is now under attack by an unruly crowd of din­ers, each of whom is try­ing to push his or her way to the edge of the table to extract some sort of meal from the con­fu­sion. Whether they have their pick of the table or suc­ceed only in pick­ing up the left-overs, none of them seems like­ly to dine well … On the cru­cial issue of agri­cul­ture, the revised Chair­man’s text that appeared ear­ly Sat­ur­day after­noon looks very much like the first ver­sion of the text, with some sub­tle changes in the pro­pos­als. The deci­sion to be tak­en on agri­cul­ture is now being described as a ‘frame­work’ for nego­ti­a­tions: the struc­ture of a final agree­ment with­out the num­bers that will final­ly deter­mine the size of the cuts to tar­iffs or sub­si­dies. It’s chief char­ac­ter­is­tics are: — Domes­tic sup­ports
Slight­ly tighter rules and some (not yet spec­i­fied) cuts. These include # A faster start to the reduc­tion of trade dis­tort­ing farmer pay­ments
# Con­fir­ma­tion that the big indus­tri­al­ized economies that use them most will be able to con­tin­ue some pay­ments (not exceed­ing 5% of the val­ue of their heir agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion) that require farm­ers to cut their pro­duc­tion to a fixed pro­por­tion of their his­tor­i­cal out­put. These so-called ‘blue box’ pay­ments will sanc­tion, for exam­ple, a con­tin­u­ing $10billion annu­al pay­ment to Amer­i­can farm­ers. 
# A tight­en­ing of the def­i­n­i­tion of the cat­e­go­ry of sup­ports (‘green box&#8217)in where gov­ern­ments may con­tin­ue to pro­vide pay­ments with­out restraint—if they can afford to do so. — Mar­ket access
Con­fused and com­pli­cat­ed pro­vi­sions for cut­ting tar­iffs and open­ing up tar­iff-quo­tas with ample room for pro­tec­tion­ists in Europe, North Amer­i­ca and North Asia to min­i­mize the impact of lib­er­al­iza­tion on high­ly pro­tect­ed mar­kets and even weak­er require­ments for ‘devel­op­ing’ coun­tries such as Brazil, India etc. # The ‘blend­ed’ for­mu­la of option­al meth­ods of cut­ting tar­iffs sur­vives from the EU-US joint text. In its cur­rent form it is struc­tured in a way that allows coun­tries to cut high tar­iffs on ‘sen­si­tive’ prod­ucts by much less than low­er tar­iffs on prod­ucts where they already per­mit imports. This is, of course, absurd since the most pro­tect­ed prod­ucts (sug­ar, meat, dairy, rice and some oth­er grains) are pre­cise­ly where most of the dis­tor­tions in world food trade are to be found.
# The Tar­iff Quo­tas (TQs) that were cre­at­ed in the Uruguay Round of nego­ti­a­tions to guar­an­tee a small ‘crack’ in the high­est tar­iff walls around pro­tect­ed agri­cul­tur­al mar­kets may (or may not) be opened up a lit­tle more by the pro­posed rules. In the cur­rent for­mu­la­tion, this mode of lib­er­al­iza­tion seems to be option­al.
# There are a num­ber of pos­si­ble ‘belts-and-braces’ clauses—some in ‘square brack­ets’ because they have only minor­i­ty support—that pre­tend to either strength­en the over­all out­come on mar­ket access or add more ‘flex­i­bil­i­ty’ to rules that already have very uncer­tain appli­ca­tion. — Export Sub­si­dies
The text has not changed much apart from the addi­tion of one clause which appears to call for the nego­ti­a­tion of a date for the elim­i­na­tion of all export sub­si­dies, and not mere­ly those on prod­ucts ‘of inter­est to devel­op­ing countries’—which is still the bur­den of the offer from the Euro­pean Communities.

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