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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