Agriculture Impasse Between U.S., EU Dims Prospects for Concluding Doha by Year-End

Original Publication Date: 
9 April, 2006
The prospects for successfully concluding the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks by the end of the year appear to have dwindled significantly in recent weeks, sources said April 7, as the United States and the European Union continue to be at odds over the make-or-break issue of agriculture.

Rufus H. Yerxa, deputy director-general of the WTO, said he remains 'quite optimistic' that the talks will succeed given the recognition by WTO members of the stakes involved.

But he conceded at a conference here organized by Columbia University that the principle challenge continues to be 'rich-country agriculture,' where the United States and the EU have been at loggerheads for years.

Yerxa said that, in his view, a combination of 'power, legitimacy, and clarity of purpose' will be required of key WTO members to set the stage for progress and eventual success.

'That's what leaders have to bring to this equation to make it happen,' he said, adding that the EU will have to move on agricultural market access, the United States will have to show flexibility on domestic support for the agriculture sector, and advanced developing countries such as India and Brazil will have to move on nonagricultural market access and services.

'We're at a stage in the negotiations now where the focus is very much on [that] triangle of issues among major players,' Yerxa said.

Doha to Last Few More Years?

At the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong last December, trade ministers set a deadline of the end of April 2006 for reaching agreement on the negotiating modalities--including formulas and figures--for agriculture and NAMA, and a target date of the end of July for similar modalities for services.

The ministers also set a deadline of the end of 2006 for completing the talks--although most observers now consider that to be unrealistic.

Other sources said that, in their view, the Doha Round, which was launched in November 2001, can be expected to last another few years--at least--as the Europeans continue to dig in their heels on agriculture and elections in the United States and Europe prevent movement on either side.

'I don't think the negotiations are going anywhere,' said Robert Howse, a professor of law at the University of Michigan. 'It will be a multi-year effort