Timing is (almost) everything in WTO negotiations

A ‘sashay‘ is a figure in square-dancing in which partners circle each other by taking sideways steps, according to the dictionary. It’s a basic move in trade negotiations, too. When an issue such as market access reaches the point it has, today, where the next move becomes “I win, you loose”, the negotiations can sieze-up like a motor without oil. The time has arrived to sashay around to other issues

The G-20 group of developing countries, the USA, the Cairns Group and others are telling the EC to move beyond it’s average 25 percent cut in agricultural trade barriers, and the EC is saying it cannot.

“… EU officials said the minimum demanded by the US and the Group of 20 developing countries, which includes India and Brazil, was more than they could offer. The G20 is calling for the rich countries to cut farm tariffs by an average of 54 per cent, against the initial EU offer which the US calculates as an average reduction of 25 per cent. The US proposal envisages an average 75 per cent cut.”(Financial Times)

The negotiations at this point take on the aspect of a zero-sum game. Whatever advance one side secures represents a proportional loss to the other side. Trade itself is not like that: it’s a positive-sum exchange in which both players win.

It may be time for the negotiators to re-discover that positive sum by turning to other issues affecting the outcome in Agriculture such as:

  1. ‘Special products’ that developing countries may designate for higher protection

  2. Special ‘safeguards’ for agricultural products when imports suddenly start to take away the market; are they needed?

  3. The terms of implementation for the elimination of export subsidies; how long? By identical steps? “Back-end-loaded”? With year-to-year variations?

  4. Geographical indications; should a global ‘register’ of GI’s be established? Will it have legal effect in all WTO member countries? What effect?

  5. How can substantial food-aid donations best be managed without endangering the rules against subsidized surplus disposals affecting commercial sales?

  6. Can the definition of the ‘green box’—subsidies to farmers that are not trade distorting—be improved?

When progress is made in some of these areas—that have been discussed now for three years—it should be possible to sashay back to the issue of market access barrier cuts, and see the numbers in a different light.

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