WTO Agriculture negotiations: ‘e pur si muove’

I’ve summarized the evidence from statements at the Ministerial meeting in Dalian (China) two weeks ago that Agriculture Negotiations chairman Tim Grosser will not have the material for his planned ‘approximation’ of the final deal at next Tuesday’s meeting with Geneva Ambassadors (26 July). But still … there is some movement to report

It’s a bit lonely out here on the sunny side of the WTO watch. Most commentators are dark on the prospects for agreement, echoing the Director General’s cries of alarm. That’s not unreasonable, I suppose, since the Director-General is an authoritative source. But you can’t say that Supachai is a disinterested observer. Naturally, he wants to be able to point to the promised land in the distance, even if he won’t lead the tribes there: he’s off to head up UNCTAD in September.

Tim Grosser, too, will be feeling pretty unhappy about having no ‘approximation’ to offer. He has been obliged by his government to withdraw from Chairmanship of the Agriculture Negotiations at the end of the month, well before his term should have been up in December this year, because he’s joined the opposition party in the Wellington parliament.

But my authorities for a less gloomy prognosis are pretty good, too: the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative and the EC Trade Commissioner. Here’s what each one of them said in their press conferences at the end of the Dalian meeting (full texts are available in a .zip file here).

Deputy USTR Allgeier

bq.  On your second question, the middle ground on the agricultural tariff formula, what is meant by that is the following: that at one end of the spectrum countries including the United States were advocating what is known is a simple, a Swiss Formula. On the other end of the spectrum, countries, primarily the European Union and some of the other less ambitious agriculture countries, were advocating some modified version of the so-called Uruguay Round formula.

It became apparent, and it was certainly articulated in this meeting, that those of us who advocated the Swiss formula were not going to succeed in bringing those who advocated Uruguay Round formula all the way over to our side of the spectrum. Nor were the Uruguay Round advocates going to pull us all the way over to their end of the spectrum. So the logical thing is, let’s look at alternative approaches where we both have an opportunity to negotiate for our objectives, but we’re not trying to bring the other into our own respective approaches.

I think what gave us all the confidence to say well look at alternatives in the center is that there were a number of ideas put forward by countries, including the G-20, on a structure for the tariff formula. And people felt we could possibly work for that, and there were some ideas put forward by the Canadians, there were some ideas put forward by the Australians, and so people feel there were enough ideas out there that people can play with that are neither “Swiss” nor “Uruguay Round” that that’s where we’re going to put the focus of our attention in the upcoming negotiations that are coming in the next few weeks on this subject. (Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Peter Allgeier at Dalian)

EC Trade Commissioner Mandelson

…(The Dalian Summit) was certainly not an opportunity missed. We have seen a growing convergence of analysis and opinion without in how our aspirations should be converted, and can be translated into figures, formulae and structures. So I feel more optimistic that the foundations of agreement are more in place. But without making any rash assumptions about the agreement that we have reached on the details of our negotiations. I feel the mood is better – but the devil is in the detail …

We have to accept lower expectations for July. But that doesn’t mean to say that we are reducing our ambition for Hong Kong. We are not going to get the sort of first approximation of Hong Kong modalities by the end of July as we wished. On the other hand, key foundations are moving into place. And as long as the work for the rest of July is carried out in earnest and with good will and with flexibility, and as long as work during the Autumn intensifies, we can get to Hong Kong in a good state. But nobody should imagine that Hong Kong will be a success if everything was left until the last minute … (EC Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson at Dalian)

The Co-chairs of the Dalian Meeting

On the [agriculture] Market Access formula, Ministers recognised the need to seek a middle ground between the Swiss formula and the UR approach. We have asked our negotiators to continue their work on the basis of the status report submitted by the Chairman of the Negotiating Group on 27 June 2005, using the recent G20 proposal as a starting point for the work on the structure of the MA formula, recognising that some members have reservations about certain aspects of that proposal. We will give specific, detailed and concrete instructions to our negotiators in Geneva for identifying a most-favoured option before the summer break. We have suggested that the Chairman of the Negotiating Group lead this work and, capture and report to the TNC, by the end of the month, the emerging convergence on the key elements of the tiered formula for tariff reductions under the Market Access pillar, with indications on how Members’ sensitivities should be treated with flexibilities. In this connection, we noted that a number of suggestions on sensitive items are on the table, including the helpful suggestion to work on indicators for selection of special products based on food security, livelihood security, and rural development needs.

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