Jul 10, 2008

WTO: NAMA Talks Still In Trouble

With a new text due out today or tomorrow it is disconcerting to read that big differences remain in the important non-agricultural market access area (NAMA). With a good deal on NAMA, the United States and EU will find it hard to sell the deal on agriculture back home.

GENEVA (Reuters) - World Trade Organisation members remain apart on key proposals to free up commerce in industrial goods, the WTO mediator in industry talks said on Tuesday.
"We have too many issues still unresolved," Canada's WTO ambassador Don Stephenson, who chairs the industry talks, told WTO members, according to a participant in the meeting.
Stephenson was briefing the WTO's 152 members on the past month's detailed consultations on trade in industrial goods such as footwear and machinery, and told them he would issue revised negotiating proposals on Thursday.
That new text, together with a similar new draft on agriculture also expected this week, will serve as the blueprint for ministers when they come to Geneva in two weeks to negotiate an outline deal in the WTO's long-running Doha round.
While some of the differences are fundamental, such as the size of overall tariff cuts, Stephenson said some of the gaps were "absurdly small". He said it would "insane" to leave ministers to deal with some of these small gaps.
That is because ministers will have their agendas full taking the big political decisions on the headline cuts in industrial tariffs for rich and poor countries, plus a host of other contentious issues.
Foremost among these is the scope of exceptions for developing countries to overall tariff cuts.
Rich countries, such as the United States, Japan, the European Union, and Canada are preparing to open up farm trade to developing nations in return for a bigger slice of poor countries' markets for industrial goods.
So they are concerned that developing countries could use the exceptions to tariff cuts to shield entire sectors, such as garments or automobiles, from greater market access.
They want to write into the proposals specific limits to the extent to which a sector can be excluded from tariff cuts.
But developing industrial countries such as Malaysia, China, India and Brazil say the current wording ruling out the exclusion of entire sectors already goes far enough.