May 8, 2008

WTO: Are People Suggesting That Falconer Is Dragging The Chain?

Does Minister Goff know what is going on? Why is there no urgency? Where was Falconer on 6 May? This from the Bureau of National Affairs

GENEVA--Pressure is mounting on the chairman of the Doha Roundnegotiations on agriculture to issue his revised draft negotiating textas soon as possible, with the European Union's top trade official urginghim to circulate the draft no later than mid-May. European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said May 6 that he wouldlike to see the draft negotiating texts for agriculture as well asnon-agricultural market access (NAMA) appearing "no later than mid-May,that is by the end of next week," adding that further delay couldjeopardize chances to conclude the Doha Round by the end of the year. One Geneva-based ambassador speaking on condition of anonymity agreedthe agriculture text needed to come out very soon. "There's a small window of opportunity left" for reaching a Doha deal,the ambassador said. "We have to take advantage of this opportunity,otherwise we might as well just go home and come back in 2011." The issuance of the revised texts will kick off the so-called"horizontal" negotiations at senior officials level aimed at hammeringout deals in the two sectors, with the texts serving as the basis fornegotiations. The hope is that senior officials can narrow differencesenough so that trade ministers can be called in to finalize a dealwithin a matter of weeks. Aiming for Bush Signature "We need to head for a ministerial in May or June," Mandelson declared."If that's the case then we can complete the bulk of the negotiations,get the single undertaking and get the final deal in place for PresidentBush to sign off on. We need to get the bulk of the work done onPresident Bush's watch, and that means this year." The original hope was to organize a ministerial around the week of May19, but those plans have been shelved because of ongoing problems inagriculture. Negotiators are still working on three technicalissues--tariff treatment for "sensitive" agricultural goods, tarifftreatment for tropical products, and tariff preference erosion--in thehopes of providing agriculture negotiations chairman Crawford Falconerwith some text inputs to incorporate into his revised draft. Falconer told World Trade Organization members April 30 that becausenegotiators have asked for more time to deal with these issues, he doesnot expect to issue his revised draft anytime before the week of May 12. The chairmen of the various Doha negotiating groups met in Geneva May 6for talks with WTO director-general Pascal Lamy on the state of thetalks, but Falconer was out of town and did not attend. Falconer is dueto report back to WTO members May 9 on the progress in these discussionsand may indicate at that time when a revised text can be expected. Another ambassador speaking on condition of anonymity said that membersare likely to hear that good progress has been made on resolving thesensitives issue, where the question is increasing tariff rate quotavolumes for products deemed sensitive in order to compensate for thelower tariff cuts these products will be subject to. USTR spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel agreed on the urgent need for a WTO texton agriculture: "We are working intensively in both agriculture and NAMAto enable the chairs to produce papers in proper shape. We hope thatwould result in the texts coming out as soon as possible, so we can havea successful ministerial as soon as possible." Tropical Products Not Ripe However, the official said delegations involved in the talks on tropicalproducts have already indicated the need for more time, withnegotiations expected to continue into the week of May 12. The tropical products issue has now emerged as the key stumbling blockin the farm trade talks. The negotiating mandate for agriculture callsfor tropical products to be subject to the "fullest liberalization."Producer countries argue that the mandate means tropical products shouldbe subject to bigger tariff cuts than other farm goods, and have calledfor all tariffs on tropical products below 25 percent to be eliminatedwith remaining tariff lines on tropical goods subject to cuts of 85percent. The problem is product coverage and the conflict between the mandate ontropical products and other mandates. Some tropical products such assugar are likely to be declared sensitive by the EU and the UnitedStates, meaning they will be subject to less onerous tariff cuts. Others products such as bananas are covered by tariff preferences,particularly among producer countries in the African and Caribbeanregion with the EU. With the mandate also calling for the issue oftariff preferences to be addressed in the negotiations, African andCaribbean producers are insisting on very long implementation periods tomake cuts on these products. Latin American banana producers however areinsisting bananas should benefit from tropical product treatment. Mandelson said Falconer should go ahead and issue his revised text, evenif the issue of tropical products remains unresolved. "At the moment the agricultural text is being held up by inconclusivenegotiations concerning tropical products, to which the Latin Americancountries are absolutely central," he said. "I hope very much indeedthat ... a convergence [is] reached, in particular between LatinAmerican countries and others such as ourselves in the EU." "If it is not possible to reach convergence now on tropical products Iwould not like to see that holding up the tabling of revised chairs'texts," Mandelson added.End of article graphic By Daniel Pruzin