The story so far…

My focus in the first two days here has been on agriculture: * working on the “statement(text of statment on Nationl Farmers’ Federation website)”:http://www.nff.org.au/pages/nr03/65.html of the “Cairns Group(link to Cairns Group web site)”:http://www.cairnsgroup.org farm leaders expressing disappointment with the agriculture provisions of the Chairman’s text[⇒ related story] and calling for stronger efforts to open agricultural markets * attending the meeting of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (“IFAP”:http://www.ifap.org), dominated by the farm organizations of Japan, Norway, the EU and Korea who want to maintain high barriers against competitors’ access to consumers Already, however, the shape of the week’s work is emerging. First, a summary of where we’re up to and how we got here…. The key to reaching agreement at the CancZn ministerial meeting is agreement on the way forward in agriculture. That much has been clear nearly since the beginning of the Doha Round negotiations. ‘Agreement’ in this case does not mean agreement on the liberalization of agricultural markets: that agreement will come at the end of the negotiations, scheduled for the end of 2004 (after the US elections). The objective for CancZn is agreement on a ‘framework’ for a future decision. What’s a framework for decision? It’s the sort of thing that has been incorporated in the Chairman’s text[⇒ related story] of the final decision: a plan for future trade reforms, filled with ‘square brackets’ where the details are yet to be negotiated. A framework contains the shape of a decision without the details. h3. The story so far After meeting in Montreal in July, trade Ministers from 25-or-so of the leading WTO member countries asked the EU and the USA to come to a closer understanding of the way to achieve the overall objectives of the negotiations # substantial improvements in acess to markets
# reduction and elimination of trade-distorting payments to farmers
# reductions of export subsidies “with a view to phasing them out” The EU and USA chief negotiators came up with a [[wrongMarketAccessEU-USA proposal]] that almost everyone else considered was flawed. Many commentators considered (as I do) that it provided for weak reforms to market access restrictions and export subsidies, while cravenly asserting the right of farmers in the rich countries to retain high levels of government payments that, sooner or later, are likely to adversely affect the market for farmers in other countries. Despite it’s shortcommings, the Chairman of the main negotiating group (the “Trade Negotiations Committee”) used the EU-US paper as the basis of the draft text[⇒ related story] of the final decision to be made in CancZn. A number of large developing countries objected both to the provisions of the US-EU paper and to the suggestion that proposals from the EU and USA should take this sort of precedence in the negotiations. A group of twenty developing countries including India, China and several members of the Cairns Group of agricultual exporters (Brazil, Argentina, Thailand, Costa Rica, Guatemala) produced their own text of a framework agreement[⇒ related story] on agriculture that proposed much stronger changes in agricultural trade policies, somewhat in line with the earlier proposals of the Cairns Group. But the burden of the changes, in their proposals fall on industrialized countries while developing countries would have much weaker obligations, for example on cutting tariff barriers. The so-called “G20 paper” (now “G21” with the addition of Egypt to the membership) has apparently split the membership of the Cairns Group. Australia, New Zealand and Canada have been unable to join forces with the G21, mainly because of the difference in the level of obligations on developing countries. The difference is not one of targets or timeframes: it’s more like an ‘escape clause’ for developing countries. As I’ve argued here[⇒ related story], developing countries’ protection of their agricultural markets is a big problem for other developing countries who export agricultural products. The Chairman of the Cairns Group (Mark Vaile, the Australian Trade Minister) claims that the G21 and Cairns proposals are “85% the same”, but the G21 text and the EU-US joint text (in the draft decision) are the chief contenders for approval at CancZn, by-passing the Cairns Groups’ own proposals and somwhat weakening the claims of the Group to be a ‘decision-shaper’ in the negotiations. Where do we stand right now (Wednesday morning) as the negotiations formally commence? This wouldn’t be the WTO if there were not a procedural battle shaping up as a complicating overlay on the disagreements about substance. The G21 have suggested that their text, not the agriculture sections of the official draft text should be the basis of negotiations here at Canc&uactute;n. They argue that as a group representing over half the world’s population (perhaps as much as two-thirds) their text, rather than that of the industrialized countries, should be taken as the ‘point of departure’. It’s a tactic that has annoyed many of the experienced diplomats who recognize that this purely procedural claim could absorb many hours or days set aside for the negotiations in pointless wrangling. Meanwhile, in the hotel corridors, in corners of restaurants, in windowless conference rooms of the Convention Center—in fact, anywhere but in the bright, innocent sushine of CancZn—dozens of Ministers, hundreds of civil servants and thousands of their industry advisers begin to labor over combinations and permutations of ugly nouns, adjectives, prepositions and the occasional, tenative verb.

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