Prospect for Doha conclusion before yearend dims

by Jay Sjerven
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GENEVA — Prospects for a summit to conclude the Doha Round of negotiations under the World Trade Organization before the end of the year dimmed when negotiators meeting in Geneva on Dec. 9 pointed to wide divisions remaining between member nations in critical areas including agricultural tariffs.

World leaders at the November G-20 summit in Washington called for the revival of the global trade talks with the aim of staving off protectionist pressures during the economic crisis and finally wrapping up the Doha Round that was launched in 2001. The hope expressed was negotiations would be substantially concluded by the end of the year.

The last major effort to conclude the round collapsed in July, largely because of a late disagreement regarding thresholds required before developing countries would be permitted to employ a special safeguard mechanism allowing them to raise tariffs when imports surged.

W.T.O. Director General Pascal Lamy on Dec. 6 announced revised negotiating documents on agricultural and industrial goods he said should move the Doha Round closer to completion, and it was those documents negotiators reviewed before indicating differences likely remained too wide to ensure a successful yearend summit.

Mr. Lamy said on presenting the new documents, "With these revised texts, we are closer to our goal of clinching modalities in agriculture and industry, a stepping stone toward the conclusion of the Doha Round. We still have a long way to go before the Round is concluded and all members are asked to cast their ballot on the final package. However, the modalities step would send a signal that all W.T.O. members stand united to face the challenges of the current economic crisis. It will confirm that they reject unilateral beggar they neighbor solutions. This is not the time for unrealistic demands, nor is it the time for inflexible stances. This is the time for collective moves toward global solutions."

But opposition to convening a defining yearend summit mobilized quickly, including in the United States.

Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, were joined by 20 other senators in writing to President George W. Bush stating they would oppose any agreement that did not include substantial improvements from the July framework.

The senators wrote, "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 U.S. 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 senators asserted the new modalities framework for agriculture under consideration in Geneva was not sound or balanced from the perspective of U.S. agriculture.

"Other countries have not responded adequately to the offers on domestic agricultural support already put on the table by our negotiators in recent months," the senators said. "The latest proposed modalities language issued by Ambassador Falconer and the compromise proposed by Direct General Lamy on July 25 both provide for substantial loopholes which would severely limit promised access to foreign markets for key U.S. products. More importantly, key developing country trading partners have demanded even further concessions from the U.S. without responding on market access."

The senators added they believed the calendar should not drive the negotiations.

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