There’s been quite a bit of ‘whistling in the dark’ recently about the Doha Round negotiations on agriculture. Hints and suggestions of alleged progress prompted by the peripatesis of the “US Trade Representative(report of Zoellick and Lamy in Mombassa)”:http://allafrica.com/stories/200402250071.html, the “Cairns Group(link to ABC report on recent meeting)”:http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/stories/s1051222.htm, some members of the “EU Commission(Reuters report on Lamy in Washington)”:http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=businessNews&storyID=4447559§ion=news and the G-20 leadership. That none of it amounts to much is suggested by this report in the “Bridges(link to the publishers website)”:http://www.itcsd.org/ newsletter about a recent G-20 discussion with the EU agriculture Commissioner. bq. The EC showed no new flexibility, reiterating its offer to eliminate export subsidies on products of interest to developing countries, while making clear that these would not, for the moment, include sensitive commodities such as sugar, dairy and beef. The G-20 coalition reiterated its call for the elimination of all export subsidies and for substantive decreases in Blue and Amber Box support. Market access was not discussed in detail. This could have been issued as a “progress report” anytime in the past year. It takes little math to calculate that the EU is offering almost nothing on export subsidies if those exclusions hold, nor to determine that no progress has been made at all on the most difficult issue: market access. It’s typical—and so, indicative of nothing—that Reuters reports the trade Commissioner (above) as offering a menu of choices on export subsidies that is different from that offered by his agricultural colleague. These stories tell us little more than that the diplomatic activity is continuing. They do not allay doubts about the political commitment of the major trading powers. WTO deals matter not a damn at present in Washington—where the settled rhetoric of this election year paints trade (including ‘outsourcing’)as just a little less popular than gay marriage—and where USTR Zoellick is probably not missed when he’s not around. Nor is Brussels pressed to resolve external conflicts over its agricultural policies. There, a constitutional mess of indecision and dog-in-manger power brokerage sets the hounds of ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europe at each others’ throats while they wait for the expansion-and-or-dissolution of the Union when 10 new member state join in May. Will this stew of political distraction, old ideas and constant movement allow new agreements to emerge in WTO? Very likely … “in the fullness of time”. This year? I doubt it.
Peter Gallagher is a leading Australian consultant on trade and public policy.[bio].
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