WTO negotiations behind schedule


WASHINGTON – Despite progress on agriculture, World Trade Organization negotiations remain behind schedule and require considerable, difficult work, especially in the next few months, to achieve an agreement, Congress’ investigative agency reports.
In a report posted June 1, the Government Accountability Office said the months before the December WTO ministers’ meeting in Hong Kong are crucial for achieving an agreement.
Target date. That agreement likely needs to be concluded by mid-2007, when U.S. trade negotiating authority expires.
Government Accountability Office compiled the report at the request of the Senate Finance Committee and the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.
The negotiations, formally called the Doha Development Agenda, stalled almost as soon as they were launched in 2001 and were revived in July 2004 by agreement on a framework for working out sensitive agricultural trade issues.
Major issues. Since then, Government Accountability Office said, negotiators have made some progress on agriculture and customs reforms (called trade facilitation), but little progress on other major issues: industrial market access, services, development and WTO rules for dumping and subsidies.
Government Accountability Office said reaching a final agreement would be difficult because the 148 WTO members must make decisions by consensus and because developed and developing countries often have conflicting interests.
“Progress at the WTO still depends on strong leadership by – and good relations between – the United States and the European Union, but political transitions have preoccupied them into early 2005,” the report said.
Stumbling block. Experts are divided over whether the proliferation of bilateral and regional free-trade agreements help or hurt the Doha negotiations, Government Accountability Office said.


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