WASHINGTON – Ministers from key countries in World Trade Organization negotiations have set themselves a March 1 deadline to agree on a target year for eliminating agricultural export subsidies.
At a Dec. 3 briefing in Geneva, ministers from the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil, Japan and Australia also said they were moving toward consensus on eliminating duties and quotas for nearly all imports from the least developed countries.
Slow negotiating. The ministers had been meeting in Geneva to work out whatever progress they could ahead of a Dec. 13-18 WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong. They reiterated that they expect no breakthroughs at Hong Kong.
The negotiations, formally called the Doha Development Agenda, have stalled almost since their launch in 2001 over politically difficult agricultural trade issues.
Negotiators have made almost no progress in other major parts of the negotiations aimed at opening markets in nonagricultural products and services.
Export subsidies. Establishing the deadline for negotiations on agricultural export subsidies may not be a huge accomplishment, but it is something new, according to U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.
It has also become the least difficult issue for negotiators since ministers already agreed in July 2004 to eliminate export subsidies, but left the target year open for further negotiation.
The EU accounts for about 90 percent of agricultural export subsidies spending, and the United States for most of the rest.
Portman said concluding the export subsidies negotiation would require agreement not only on the deadline, but also on disciplines for state trading enterprises and food aid.
Domestic support, tariffs. Aside from export subsidies, the other major agricultural trade issues are domestic support payments to farmers, and tariffs.
Since the United States submitted an Oct. 10 proposal for sharply reducing both domestic support and tariffs, it has joined other countries pressing the EU to make its own robust offer.
So far, however, what the EU has offered on tariffs has been rejected by other WTO members as offering no real additional market access.
U.S. support. At the Geneva briefing, Portman elaborated on the consensus emerging for providing access, both duty free and quota free, for imports from the least developed countries and for giving developing countries other benefits.
Portman said the United States would implement any agreement on duty-free, quota-free treatment through its existing preferential treatment programs for developing countries, such as the Generalized System of Preferences and African Growth and Opportunity Act.
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