A Doha Deal by Year End? Don't Count On It

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 12/09/2008 01:03:00 PM
Back to our bread-and-butter subject matter: US Trade Representative Susan Schwab once opined that India and Brazil, the leading negotiators on behalf of LDCs, were out to destroy the Doha Round. In the dying days of the Bush administration, however, we have a situation where it would probably be accurate to say the same of the US. This puts dampers on earlier hopes from approximately the G-20 meeting onwards of a quick resolution. WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was hoping to convene a full-fledged ministerial gathering in Geneva from 17-19 December. It now appears that, due to a lack of consensus, a WTO meeting will not be likely for the remainder of the calendar.

There are three main sticking points:
  1. The US is fending off complaints about its still-healthy cotton subsidies;
  2. The US and several LDCs are at odds overs tariffs applied to so-called "sectoral" deals;
  3. India has yet to agree on the level at which safeguards can be applied to protect subsistence farmers.
US senators earlier sent a letter to President Bush warning about signing a deal for the sake of signing a deal without considering the interests of American farmers:
Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today led a bipartisan group of 22 senators in urging a balanced agreement in the Doha Round agricultural trade negotiations in Geneva. In a letter to President Bush, the lawmakers said that if substantial improvements are not made to the July framework, any modalities agreement will not benefit U.S. agriculture, the economy and will not have Congressional support.

“We continue to support a successful completion of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, begun in 2001, but only if it achieves the principal objectives of the United States and the ambitious goals of the original ministerial declaration for agriculture, which ‘aimed at substantial improvements in market access; reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidies; and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support,’” wrote the lawmakers. “A sound and balanced agreement should contribute significantly to global economic recovery, growth, and development.”
The American Farm Bureau is making similar noises:
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said he agrees with congressional leaders who yesterday sent a letter to President Bush opposing a December meeting of WTO trade ministers. Before such a meeting is held, he said there must be “sufficient evidence that WTO members are truly committed to granting meaningful market access.”

“Moving ahead with a deal that Congress and agriculture cannot support would be detrimental to the overall stature of the WTO as an institution and would provide no stimulus to the slumping global economy,” Stallman said. “In light of the deteriorating status of world trade talks, some member nations, especially those considered key emerging economies, still are not committed to opening their markets [cue India]. In fact several nations are hardening or revising their positions, which further reduces their willingness to make real trade reform.”

Stallman said AFBF, along with organizations representing the manufacturing and service sectors, recently communicated strong opposition to a new WTO Ministerial meeting to President Bush.

“The December timetable is arbitrary and places the Doha Round of WTO talks in jeopardy, especially given the overall lack of progress in recent discussions,” Stallman said. Stallman emphasized that “limited expectations and low ambition” are not conducive to achieving the kind of real trade reform that would help support job creation and economic growth.

“Trade talks should be about increasing, rather than decreasing trade opportunities,” Stallman said. “Any trade deal that legitimizes agricultural trade barriers and protectionist behavior is unacceptable. Until there is evidence that WTO members are committed to real trade reform to benefit the world economy, it would be counterproductive and dangerous to take any further steps.”
When the United States shows reluctance, it's probably not meant to be just yet. Roll on 2009, Obama, and whomover his USTR will be. The world is still waiting.