Mandelson sees progress, claims credit

The surprise for those who read Mandelson’s London speech closely may be his confirmation of progress in the negotiations; hedged with plausible accusations that the trans-Atlantic business community has lost interest in the Doha Round and accompanied by the tendencious claim that the Europeis ‘bankrolling’ the negotiations. Mandelson has offered some ideas how to move further ahead that are much more useful at this point than the ‘alarm button’ “gesture”: of the out-going Director General of WTO The credit claims are tedious of course but for domestic consumption, so let them pass: bq. Recently, agreeing to advance the negotiations on agricultural market access
on the basis of a framework proposed by G20 developing countries, the EU has
once again helped to move the Round forward (“EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases(link to this excerpt)”: What Mandelson confirms here is “my instinct”: that there has been a change in the course of the stream of neogtiations on agricultural market access; “underground“: at least. The formerly fixed focus of the Cairns Group on a ‘swiss-type’ formula has been abandoned and the G-20—that includes many Cairns group countries—has come up with a potentially workable framework for significant access reform; depending on where the numbers come out. It is possible that the U.S., too, has begun to back away from it’s ‘swiss-25’ proposal for agricultural market access cuts. No deal emerged on these ideas at the Dalian Ministerial meeting two weeks ago, however, because Europe insists on a probably minimalist “Uruguay Round approach”: to the tariff cuts. So even if we bank these proposals by the G-20 and Australia as progress toward compromise, we’re not yet at the point where the so-called modalities of agricultural reform can be agreed. That’s what WTO Director-General Supachai complained about to the Ambassadors in Geneva last week when he “said”: that he was ‘pushing the alarm button’. It was a silly gesture, in my view, since it doesn’t do anything more than sell a press-release. Supachai would have been better advised not to trumpet the failure of the Members to live up to yet another implausible deadline that, as far as I can see, he made up. In his published remarks to the Trade Negotiations Committee in May he said bq. “I also informed Members that from my participation in various ministerial gatherings, it was clear that Ministers were expecting more than just progress reports. As Chairman of the TNC, I will have to provide Members in July with a very good idea not only of the progress we have made, but also of what will have to be done to ensure a successful Ministerial Conference.”(“WTO”: But his view of what “Ministers were expecting” is hardly a commitment of the Membership. In fact, the 1 August 2003 “framework package”: that reset the direction of talks after the collapse of the Cancún ministerial meeting contains one or two commitments for this July, but they are not commitments on agriculture modalities. There’s a good reason for this: the modalities and the targets within them—the ‘how’ and the ‘how much’—are intimately linked. A final agreement on modalities implies a good deal of confidence about the size of the targets. For example, in a particular configuration of the tiered tariff cut, what the thresholds will be for the tiers and what the cuts will be within each tier. I can’t see that level of detail being decided before the Hong Kong Ministerial, if then. Mandelson didn’t indulge in alarm buttons in his London speech. Instead, after criticising the lack of engagement from business in both Europe and the U.S., and after an obscure warning that the gains from these negotiations would be ‘less specific’ than those of the Uruguay Round, he made some feasible suggestions about what is needed to reach an ambitious conclusion. bq. ‘… other developed countries, including the US, should match the internal reform and negotiating efforts we have already made on agricultural subsidies by signaling their decision to reform agricultural domestic support and export competition. Parts of the United States are crying out for a new approach to rural development to halt rural decline: agricultural reform is the way to finance this. <br/><br/>Advanced developing countries in the G20 group should signal new commitments on industrial tariffs, services and rules. That means real movement, for example, on their part to reduce the tariffs they currently apply, not simply the upper limits to which they have bound themselves in previous WTO negotiations—though of course we recognise the need for flexibilities that reflect their state of development. <br/><br/>We also have to keep the poorest WTO members on board for the negotiations. Many of the least-developed countries, and weak and vulnerable developing countries, still fail to see the benefits that the Round could bring, and are more driven by fear of losing their preferences and of having to adjust to changing trade patterns that seem to benefit China more than them. This needs to be addressed. This must be a Doha development round in more than name.”(“EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases(link to this excerpt)”:

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