The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Doha talks still getting nowhere

Negotiators on agriculture in the Doha round of trade talks made no progress in the last two weeks, according to a source close to the World Trade Organization in Geneva and U.S. farm leaders who recently visited there.

David Walker, the New Zealand ambassador who chairs the agriculture negotiations, plans to submit a “contribution” to the overall Doha round talks next Thursday, the last working day before an Easter break and the target date for all negotiation leaders to submit reports, the Geneva source said.

On April 29, representatives of the WTO member countries are scheduled to discuss the status of the negotiations. The agriculture report will be based on the December 2008 draft text and on discussions that have taken place since then, the source said.

But in a meeting with the negotiators today, Walker said “The last two weeks have produced no constructive, bridge-building solutions to the deadlocked issues,” according to the source. In the meeting, Walker noted that the negotiating process “is entirely bottom-up — input coming only from the members themselves — and his and some delegations’ reports on their consultations indicated that the work they have been undertaking has not yet produced solutions. This includes neutral work on clarifying ambiguities in the present draft as well as negotiations over substance."

A Cuban representative said at the meeting that the Cuban government has made progress in convincing other members to support its call for special provisions to allow it longer repayment periods for export credit “because of its special circumstances particularly the U.S. embargo,” the source said.

Meanwhile, members of the U.S. Wheat Associates, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers and the U.S. Grains Council, which represents the feed industry, returned from Geneva and issued unusually negative public statements on prospects for the round.

In this week’s Wheat Letter, USW Policy Director Shannon Schlecht wrote that “Doha round negotiations are showing no sign of an immediate conclusion as the 10th year of talks continue. Negotiators are discouraged by the lack of progress in closing gaps, and it became clear last week that non-agricultural market access (NAMA) is a key hurdle for countries to overcome. While NAMA is a focus in Geneva, it was apparent that gaps remain in the services and agricultural sectors as well.”

The U.S. Grains Council’s Global Update said World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy “provided perhaps the most dire assessment of the consequences of not reaching an agreement before 2012, expressing concerns that the round may fail and there may be a need to begin thinking beyond Doha, harvesting the issues on which there is agreement, or adding new issues such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures and climate change to create a more viable and current negotiating package.”

The grains group added that from meetings with U.S. negotiators and delegates from China, Brazil, Japan, the European Union and Walker, “it is clear that significant gaps remain between the level of U.S. ambition on new market access and offers from developing countries such as China and India.”

The report said that Michael Punke, ambassador and deputy United States trade representative for the WTO, reported that the United States had made efforts to find meaningful concessions from China, India and Brazil but that bilateral efforts have yielded little in the way of new offers. The grains industry group stressed the importance of working with developing countries to get some level of detail on how they intend to apply the formulas that allow for tariff protection on special products and through the use of the special safeguard mechanism, which would allow them to stop an import surge.

“Without an understanding of how countries will use these protections, it is difficult for the U.S. grain industry and for U.S. agricultural interests in general, to determine the real value of a Doha market access package,” the grains council said.

Both groups said even though prospects look bleak, they were not giving up on the round.