The story so far…

My focus in the first two days here has been on agri­cul­ture: * work­ing on the “state­ment(text of stat­ment on Nationl Farm­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion website)”: of the “Cairns Group(link to Cairns Group web site)”: farm lead­ers express­ing dis­ap­point­ment with the agri­cul­ture pro­vi­sions of the Chair­man’s text[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] and call­ing for stronger efforts to open agri­cul­tur­al mar­kets * attend­ing the meet­ing of the Inter­na­tion­al Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­tur­al Pro­duc­ers (“IFAP”:, dom­i­nat­ed by the farm orga­ni­za­tions of Japan, Nor­way, the EU and Korea who want to main­tain high bar­ri­ers against com­peti­tors’ access to con­sumers Already, how­ev­er, the shape of the week’s work is emerg­ing. First, a sum­ma­ry of where we’re up to and how we got here.… The key to reach­ing agree­ment at the Can­cZn min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ing is agree­ment on the way for­ward in agri­cul­ture. That much has been clear near­ly since the begin­ning of the Doha Round nego­ti­a­tions. ‘Agree­ment’ in this case does not mean agree­ment on the lib­er­al­iza­tion of agri­cul­tur­al mar­kets: that agree­ment will come at the end of the nego­ti­a­tions, sched­uled for the end of 2004 (after the US elec­tions). The objec­tive for Can­cZn is agree­ment on a ‘frame­work’ for a future deci­sion. What’s a frame­work for deci­sion? It’s the sort of thing that has been incor­po­rat­ed in the Chair­man’s text[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] of the final deci­sion: a plan for future trade reforms, filled with ‘square brack­ets’ where the details are yet to be nego­ti­at­ed. A frame­work con­tains the shape of a deci­sion with­out the details. h3. The sto­ry so far After meet­ing in Mon­tre­al in July, trade Min­is­ters from 25-or-so of the lead­ing WTO mem­ber coun­tries asked the EU and the USA to come to a clos­er under­stand­ing of the way to achieve the over­all objec­tives of the nego­ti­a­tions # sub­stan­tial improve­ments in acess to mar­kets
# reduc­tion and elim­i­na­tion of trade-dis­tort­ing pay­ments to farm­ers
# reduc­tions of export sub­si­dies “with a view to phas­ing them out” The EU and USA chief nego­tia­tors came up with a [[wrong­Mar­ke­tAc­cessEU-USA pro­pos­al]] that almost every­one else con­sid­ered was flawed. Many com­men­ta­tors con­sid­ered (as I do) that it pro­vid­ed for weak reforms to mar­ket access restric­tions and export sub­si­dies, while craven­ly assert­ing the right of farm­ers in the rich coun­tries to retain high lev­els of gov­ern­ment pay­ments that, soon­er or lat­er, are like­ly to adverse­ly affect the mar­ket for farm­ers in oth­er coun­tries. Despite it’s short­com­mings, the Chair­man of the main nego­ti­at­ing group (the “Trade Nego­ti­a­tions Com­mit­tee”) used the EU-US paper as the basis of the draft text[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] of the final deci­sion to be made in Can­cZn. A num­ber of large devel­op­ing coun­tries object­ed both to the pro­vi­sions of the US-EU paper and to the sug­ges­tion that pro­pos­als from the EU and USA should take this sort of prece­dence in the nego­ti­a­tions. A group of twen­ty devel­op­ing coun­tries includ­ing India, Chi­na and sev­er­al mem­bers of the Cairns Group of agri­cul­tual exporters (Brazil, Argenti­na, Thai­land, Cos­ta Rica, Guatemala) pro­duced their own text of a frame­work agree­ment[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] on agri­cul­ture that pro­posed much stronger changes in agri­cul­tur­al trade poli­cies, some­what in line with the ear­li­er pro­pos­als of the Cairns Group. But the bur­den of the changes, in their pro­pos­als fall on indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries while devel­op­ing coun­tries would have much weak­er oblig­a­tions, for exam­ple on cut­ting tar­iff bar­ri­ers. The so-called “G20 paper” (now “G21” with the addi­tion of Egypt to the mem­ber­ship) has appar­ent­ly split the mem­ber­ship of the Cairns Group. Aus­tralia, New Zealand and Cana­da have been unable to join forces with the G21, main­ly because of the dif­fer­ence in the lev­el of oblig­a­tions on devel­op­ing coun­tries. The dif­fer­ence is not one of tar­gets or time­frames: it’s more like an ‘escape clause’ for devel­op­ing coun­tries. As I’ve argued here[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry], devel­op­ing coun­tries’ pro­tec­tion of their agri­cul­tur­al mar­kets is a big prob­lem for oth­er devel­op­ing coun­tries who export agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts. The Chair­man of the Cairns Group (Mark Vaile, the Aus­tralian Trade Min­is­ter) claims that the G21 and Cairns pro­pos­als are “85% the same”, but the G21 text and the EU-US joint text (in the draft deci­sion) are the chief con­tenders for approval at Can­cZn, by-pass­ing the Cairns Groups’ own pro­pos­als and somwhat weak­en­ing the claims of the Group to be a ‘deci­sion-shaper’ in the nego­ti­a­tions. Where do we stand right now (Wednes­day morn­ing) as the nego­ti­a­tions for­mal­ly com­mence? This would­n’t be the WTO if there were not a pro­ce­dur­al bat­tle shap­ing up as a com­pli­cat­ing over­lay on the dis­agree­ments about sub­stance. The G21 have sug­gest­ed that their text, not the agri­cul­ture sec­tions of the offi­cial draft text should be the basis of nego­ti­a­tions here at Canc&uactute;n. They argue that as a group rep­re­sent­ing over half the world’s pop­u­la­tion (per­haps as much as two-thirds) their text, rather than that of the indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, should be tak­en as the ‘point of depar­ture’. It’s a tac­tic that has annoyed many of the expe­ri­enced diplo­mats who rec­og­nize that this pure­ly pro­ce­dur­al claim could absorb many hours or days set aside for the nego­ti­a­tions in point­less wran­gling. Mean­while, in the hotel cor­ri­dors, in cor­ners of restau­rants, in win­dow­less con­fer­ence rooms of the Con­ven­tion Center—in fact, any­where but in the bright, inno­cent sushine of CancZn—dozens of Min­is­ters, hun­dreds of civ­il ser­vants and thou­sands of their indus­try advis­ers begin to labor over com­bi­na­tions and per­mu­ta­tions of ugly nouns, adjec­tives, prepo­si­tions and the occa­sion­al, tena­tive verb.

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