Doha doldrums

I’ve been trav­el­ing a lot in the past month and haven’t post­ed here as often as I should (I’m writ­ing this after a day spent at the head­quar­ters of the Andean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty in Lima, Peru). In a vis­it to Wash­ing­ton, Brus­sels and Gene­va in the past month it was pret­ty clear to me that, as the Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine sug­gests, the agri­cul­ture nego­ti­a­tions are far from the top of the trans-atlantic agen­da. This doesn’t mean that the issues have lost their impor­tance: only their urgency, com­pared to oth­er mat­ters (air­bus, Chi­na and … Chi­na). In Wash­ing­ton and Brus­sels senior offi­cials and indus­try lead­ers know very well what the dead­line is (the Econ­o­mist is right on the timetable) and they rec­og­nize that a con­fec­tion of the sort that they pro­posed before Can­cún won’t work. But Brus­sels has, more or less, made up it’s mind what it’s pre­pared to give away (subi­sides, and about the same lev­el of mar­ket access as last time) and Wash­ing­ton has not yet made up its mind to turn up the heat, on this issue. How it does so prob­a­bly depends, in my view, on the con­tri­bu­tion of the G-20 (the Econ­o­mist is right, again) and when … depends on Ambas­sador Port­man. The Chair­man of the Agri­cul­ture nego­ti­a­tions in WTO (Amb. Tim Gross­er of New Zealand) robust­ly main­tains that he’ll be able to put togeth­er an approx­i­ma­tion of the final deal in July this year. He’s draft­ing bits and pieces of it right now. Nei­ther he nor the prinic­pals in the nego­ti­a­tions are real­ly phased by the hic­cup in the recent tech­ni­cal talks over the “ad-val­orem equiv­a­lents”. Expe­ri­enced nego­tia­tors rec­og­nize that these tech­ni­cal questions—although they make a dif­fer­ence on the con­tent of the deal—won’t prove the main stick­ing points in an agree­ment. Can a draft agree­ment be pre­pared on agri­cul­ture before the Min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ing in Hong Kong? Yes, I think so; it’s pos­si­ble, although 2006 is more like­ly. Will the appoint­ment of the Direc­tor-Gen­er­al make a dif­fer­ence? No, I don’t think so. The next DG doesn’t take his seat until Sep­tem­ber. By then the shout­ing should have begun if we’re to have a deal. He can help steer the process. But it must be kicked-off well before Sep­tem­ber or we’re look­ing into 2006 for an agree­ment. Will the ‘non-agri­cul­ture’ mar­ket access nego­ti­a­tions (NAMA) go any­where before the mar­ket access aspects of Agri­cul­ture are sort­ed out? No, I doubt it. But my guess is that they’ll fol­low very close­ly behind. A big­ger ques­tion-mark hangs over the out­look for three oth­er cru­cial ele­ments in the final deal
# Ser­vices (mar­ket access) nego­ti­a­tions are almost comatose
# There is no obvi­ous con­sen­sus on how to draft a prac­ti­cal agree­ment on the in-prin­ci­ple-extreme­ly-valu­able mat­ter of Trade Facil­i­ta­tion
# There is no gen­er­al solu­tion to the mix of access con­ces­sions and oth­er arrange­ments that should be made to ensure that devel­op­ing coun­tries (a pro­found­ly var­i­ous group)
** derive ben­e­fits that are at least commensurate—and in a lim­it­ed num­ber of cas­es more than com­men­su­rate—with their con­tri­bu­tions to a more open world trad­ing sys­tem
** are appro­pri­ate­ly com­pen­sat­ed for any short­fall in their expect­ed net ben­e­fits from par­tic­u­lar aspects of the agree­ments, such as from the elim­i­na­tion of agri­cul­tur­al export sub­si­dies. A gen­er­al solu­tion with spe­cif­ic (‘mod­u­lat­ed’ is the EU term) effect that dis­tin­guish­es between the coun­tries that call them­selves ‘devel­op­ing’ in some non-con­tentious way is a sine qua non of a deal. A drop dead neces­si­ty.

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