WTO agriculture negotiations: gloom abounds

“Flop in July; fail (possibly) in September”. That seems to be the prognosis from the FT and Reuters reports out of Geneva following the Heads of Delegation meeting Tuesday. It’s what I “expected to hear”:http://www.inquit.com/article/452/how-the-us-and-ec-summed-up-dalian. There’s one more step before the summer break in Geneva. I’m not looking for a “breakthrough” but I suspect that reports to the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) on Thursday (Geneva time) will put a less melodramatic spin on the state of play Reuters (Richard Waddington) provides a sense of the disappointment of the negotiators bq. “I think that it is over. Everything has finished for this week,” said Clodoaldo Hugueney, Brazil’s chief trade negotiator, about the farm talks. “The G20 tried,” he said, referring to the developing country alliance of which Brazil is coordinator. “We put forward concrete proposals, but unfortunately it could not create the climate to move forward,” he said.(“Reuters”:http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticleSearch.aspx?storyID=244019+26-Jul-2005+RTRS) The FT uses an Oxfam assessment to add color its report bq. Talks on liberalising farm trade came to a halt without agreement at the World Trade Organisation on Tuesday, slashing almost to nothing the already slim chances of a big breakthrough in the Doha round of global trade negotiations by the autumn … Unless there was a change of heart in the autumn, “we can already conclude that the Doha round has been a failure,” said Céline Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s trade campaign. (“FT”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6a559372-fe06-11d9-a289-00000e2511c8,i_rssPage=9d5b9ebe-c8bc-11d7-81c6-0820abe49a01.html) Standing close enough to smell the grease-paint is very likely to add to the color of reports and the heightened sense of drama. But this is a three-ring circus with 148 performers; too big to see as a whole unless you climb up into the bleachers. The minimalism of the EU (and Japan, Switzerland, Norway etc) on agricultural market access; the distraction of the U.S. by the CAFTA debates and its attempts to cover domestic subsidies by ‘box shifting’ (the EU is no better on this score); the lack of significant commitment from some large developing countries to their own access reform: these are all serious barriers to the ‘substantial reform’ sought by governments when they launched these negotiations in Doha. It’s a disappointment that the Chairman’s “call”:http://www.inquit.com/article/444/grosser-status-report-on-wto-agriculture-negotiations for changes in these areas has not been acted on. But none of these factors is surprising or even new and most of them appear in relief in the light of progress that _has been made in agriculture: # The potential, defined last year, to eliminate export subsidies including export credits
# The likely early elimination of some of the most egregious U.S. domestic supports (on cotton) as a result of a WTO dispute decision just months ago
# The emergence since 2003 of a developing country leadership proposing a feasible framework for reform
# The beginnings (since early 2005) of a new approach to food aid that could see it less tainted by commercial disposal and corruption I’m expecting to see a more balanced perspective on the current status of the negotiations—especially those on agriculture—emerge from the TNC later this week.

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