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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