Reviving Trade Talks? Developing Countries Expected To Make The First Step

Original Publication Date: 
28 October, 2003
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Reviving Trade Talks?
Developing Countries expected to make the first step


By Alexandra Strickner
Trade Information Project, IATP Geneva
29 October, 2003
Geneva


During the last couple of weeks, the WTO headquarters in Geneva has been an
unusually calm and quiet place, after weeks of chaotic and untransparent
negotiations just before the WTO Ministerial Meeting in Cancun. Since the
collapse virtually all negotiating sessions have been canceled, with the
exception of the services negotiations. According to various Geneva
delegates, these negotiations proceeded only because negotiators from the
capitals had already arrived.


Even at the informal Heads of Delegation meeting on October 14th and the
General Council Meeting on October 21st, very few statements or
interventions were made. The latter meeting, which was scheduled for two
days, did not take longer than an hour.


The Chair of the General Council Carlos Perez del Castillo and WTO Director
General Supachai Pantchpakdi have been trying to put the trade talks back on
track. So far, they are holding consultations on Agriculture,
Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), Cotton and the Singapore Issues. The
aim of these consultations is to explore with the different members the
common foundation in the four areas, which could allow the restart of
negotiations in 2004. However, they are continuing with the same pre-Cancun
method of consultations for which they have been so severely criticized:
informal, undocumented small group or country-by-country consultations where
nobody knows who is meeting with whom and when and what has been talked
about. From time to time, Perez del Castillo will then convene informal,
undocumented Heads of Delegation meetings on the status quo of these
consultations.


Right after the collapse in Cancun, civil society and the media claimed it
was the US and the EU that were responsible for the breakdown, while these
two big powers blamed others. They are now adopting a strategy that aims at
shifting the responsibility of reviving the talks towards developing
countries, avoiding their own responsibility to adjust their negotiating
scope and mandate. Actually, the developing countries were the first to
voice their willingness to continue negotiations under the Doha Round. Now,
all parties, even the US, have signaled their willingness to restart
negotiations as soon as possible ­ except for the EU.


The EU has stated publicly in various occasions that it is not going to
undertake any initiative to revive the talks. It is well known that the EU
is still in its process of reflection as regards its commercial policy in
general and its positions within the WTO in specific. However, Geneva-based
delegates from developing countries interpret this posture as one suggesting
that the EU wants them to make an initial offer that would bring the EU back
to the negotiating table. Thus, by acting in this way, the EU aims to make
developing countries feel responsible for the failure in Cancun and force a
concession that would present a solution to the stalemate.


This posture is particularly problematic because the failure in Cancun was
also due to the EU’s insistence on starting negotiations on all four
Singapore Issues, despite the clear opposition of the ACP-AU-LDC countries.
The EU’s offer in Cancun to drop at least two Singapore Issues came probably
too late and at a moment where Agriculture - the most important issue for
developing countries ­ had not even been discussed. Yet in the post-Cancun
context, the EU delegates in Geneva continue to insist on all four Singapore
issues, although in increased number of EU Member States is willing to drop
them from the EU agenda for the Doha Development Round.


The seriousness of the positive signals from the US side still needs to be
proven by the outcome of the December 15th meeting of the WTO General
Council. Allen Johnson, chief agricultural negotiator for the U.S. Trade
Representative, stated recently in a breakfast briefing, that he sees a
chance for the Doha Round to move forward, and that the US would like it to
move forward.


Agriculture is certainly the most critical area for the US. Perez del
Castillo is now exploring whether the Agricultural Framework included in the
Annexes of the September 13th text can be the basis on which talks proceed.
However, this text was never even discussed in Cancun. Comparing this
framework proposal with the EU-US proposal of August 13th and the Group of
20 counter-proposal of August 20th reveals that most suggestions and
wordings have been taken from the big players’ proposal. If the developing
countries now restate their opposition to this framework, which ignores
their positions articulated repeatedly over the past two years, the US can ­
like Europe ­ use this moment to blame the developing countries and their
inflexibility for the continuing stalemate.


President Bush’s reelection is clearly his priority for 2004. Many
commodity-growing states are Republican-voting states, which are extremely
vulnerable to price fluctuations and are watching the WTO negotiations
closely. As William Greider wrote just before Cancun in “The Nation”:
“Soybeans are Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas. Beef is Kansas, the Dakotas and
the Solid South. Oranges are Florida…Whatever gets said by the US Trade
Representative, whatever declarations are issued at Cancun, count on this:
There will be no agriculture deal for developing nations at least until long
after the 2004 elections.”


These farm-state voters would not support a proposal that emphasizes subsidy
reductions, and so far the talks have failed to address the real problem ­
agricultural dumping. However as small farmers in the South continue to be
forced out of their livelihoods due to this practice it is not developing
countries that must be more flexible, but the US and the EU. It is time that
the two big powers accept their responsibility for distortions in world
agricultural markets and start addressing the problem of agricultural
dumping.


If talks in Geneva are stalled until at least November 2004, it is critical
that this time be used to review and analyze the causes of dumping and low
prices in the commodity markets as well as to discuss policy measures needed
and appropriate to end dumping. With the UNCTAD XI talks scheduled for June
13-18, 2004 in Brazil, there is a great opportunity to do so.


Alexandra Strickner
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), Geneva Office
15 Rue de Savoises
1205 Geneva
Switzerland
tel 41 22 789 0724
fax 41 22 789 0733

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