An Inauspicious WTO Debut for USTR (Cap'n) Kirk

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/14/2009 05:10:00 PM
The Doha Development Agenda is nearing eight years in purgatory (hell?). The Americans in particular have tried all sorts of things to get it moving: Swiss formulas, sectoral deals, etc. have done little to convince LDCs that they'd be better off completing Doha than staying away from it. New US Trade Representative Ron "Cap'n" Kirk has made baffling suggestions in his first visit to WTO headquarters in Geneva that appear to make matters worse. That is, the new terms he proposes appear even more lopsided to American interests.

Basically, he is calling for LDCs to stop pushing for special safeguard mechanisms in case these countries become inundated with exports after implementing tariff reductions. (India has been keen on these to help protect subsistence farmers, though Americans clearly have different ideas.) Worse yet, Kirk has made suggestions that the lack of movement on a plutilateral basis should prompt more bilateral arrangements--something that would again favor wealthy countries rich with lawyers and lobbyists. From the Associated Press:
Part of the problem has been that negotiators have sought global formulas for cutting agricultural and manufacturing tariffs, with only a sketchy understanding of how they would translate into new market gains for exporters of everything from beef and poultry to cars and computers.

The U.S.-Canada approach, officials say, proposes to shift the focus to the end result instead of the formulas, meaning countries would have to negotiate one-on-one over how much to liberalize their markets. Such a change would favor rich countries with their large teams of lawyers, economists and industry support groups, over poorer nations that need to rally together at the WTO behind a common position.

"Nobody seems to be agreeing with it," said Ujal Singh Bhatia, India's WTO ambassador. He said the underlying assumption was that Washington was looking for new ways to limit how much developing countries could adjust their tariffs to deal with sensitive farm products or a sudden surge of imports -- a reference to the issues rich and poor nations clashed over when the talks last collapsed in July. "That is a strict no-no," Bhatia said.
Not that Kirk doesn't notice the yawns generated by new American proposals:
Kirk said he found it "curious" that the Obama administration's change in tone and style from its predecessor has been "almost joyously celebrated" in discussions with other governments on national security, economics and other fronts, but at the WTO "we are being asked to stand still." He said the U.S. was not "locked into any particular process" and wanted only that WTO members remain open to alternative approaches to reach a deal. "This is not simply a matter of the United States showing up and saying here is the silver bullet that we have all been searching for," Kirk said.
Kirk's statements from his WTO appearance are available on the WTO site. Kirk appears to be moving matters--backwards, that is. At least he did not bring up Obamanite proposals to inject labor and environmental clauses that many believe are merely backdoor protectionism.