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TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (May18/20)
30 May 2018
Third World Network

       
US-Australia-Brazil try hijacking Doha agri-talks from core mandates
Published in SUNS #8689 dated 29 May 2018


Geneva, 28 May (D. Ravi Kanth) - The United States, Australia, and Brazil attempted last week to hijack the Doha agriculture negotiations from the core ministerial mandates, but the large majority of developing countries, including China, India, Indonesia, and Egypt, rallied around their central livelihood priorities at the World Trade Organization to block the US-led effort, trade envoys told SUNS.

In other remarks at the meeting, India assailed the WTO secretariat for organising a workshop on 8 June, without any mandate from members, to discuss issues not listed in the Doha agri-mandates. The green box subsidies provided by industrialized countries must be discussed at the workshop, India said.

The new deputy Director-General of the WTO Alan Wolff from the United States is the brain behind convening the workshop to change the agenda according to US priorities, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

According to an African trade envoy, the new chair of the Doha agriculture negotiations Ambassador John Deep Ford from Guyana is understood to have said privately that the WTO Secretariat works for the US and remains biased.

In a forceful statement delivered at the Doha agriculture negotiations committee meeting last Thursday (24 May), Egypt, on behalf of the African Group of countries, said the Rev.4 text or the revised draft agriculture negotiating modalities of December 2008, must remain as the basis for addressing the outstanding issues, including the reduction commitments in the domestic support and cotton, said a trade envoy who asked not to be quoted.

On behalf of the G33 group of developing and least developed countries, Indonesia expressed grave concern that the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security was not concluded as per the Bali and Nairobi ministerial mandates at the WTO's eleventh ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires last December.

Indonesia said there is no concerted effort to convene much-needed dedicate d sessions on the permanent solution for public stockholding (PSH) programs f or food security and the special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for the developing countries, the envoy said.

India and China joined the G33 and the African Group to drive home the message about their frustration over attempts to ignore the two mandated issues - t he permanent solution for PSH and the SSM - of the Bali and Nairobi ministerial mandates.

India severely criticized the WTO Secretariat over its role in organizing a workshop on 8 June without seeking a mandate from the members.

India said the issues to be discussed at the workshop are not issues raised by the developing countries.

New Delhi pressed for discussing at the workshop the green box subsidies provided by the industrialized countries, and said there is clinching evidence about the distortions they are causing in the global agricultural trade.

Current estimates of the green box subsidies in the US and the European Union suggest that both Washington and Brussels spend more than US$150 billion on these subsidies which are exempted from reduction commitments.

At the informal open-ended meeting of the Doha agriculture negotiating body last Thursday, the Chair drove a nuanced message emphasizing that he would soon convene the dedicated sessions on the permanent solution for public stockholding programs for food security and the special safeguard mechanism.

The Chair said he will proceed with dedicated sessions on PSH and SSM as mandated in the Bali and Nairobi work programs.

He urged members to intensify consultations among themselves to finalize the work program.

The Chair said the "difficult environment should not discourage our engagement.... With hard work, dedication, flexibility on all sides, we should be able to agree on how we proceed, close the gaps on negotiating issues and this will certainly give ourselves a fair chance of achieving an outcome at MC12 and beyond."

The large majority of developing countries, with few exceptions, urged the Chair to convene dedicated sessions on the PSH and SSM as mandated in the Nairobi work program.

At the meeting, the US circulated a two-page proposal, titled "WTO Agriculture Negotiations Reset", urging members to "first identify what challenges farmers face today that limit their ability to thrive."

"These challenges should be discussed by members to determine where there is commonality and opportunities to use trade to identify solutions."

The US admitted "some of these challenges [in agriculture] overlap with other members".

It concurred with the Cairns Group of farm exporting countries led by Australia that it "is open to exploring any ideas across all pillars which help progress the reform objectives of Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture."

The US said "market access is an area where no progress has been made since the Uruguay Round, and protection remains substantially higher than for industrial products", suggesting that the Cairns Group also believes progress is achievable in market access.

The three priority areas for the US are (1) reducing market access barriers, (2) reducing policy inefficiencies and distortions, and (3) removing unfair non -tariff barriers.

The US, however, remained silent on how to reduce the trade-distorting domestic support.

The US said countries must work according to the priorities of their farmers, suggesting that it would go according to what its farmers are demanding at this juncture.

Norway asked if countries decide to go by what their farmers are asking the n will there be any commitment to negotiate multilateral commitments, according to a participant at the meeting.

Norway sharply differed with the US assessment suggesting that the work program must be credible.

Norway along with other G10 countries expressed sharp reservations on giving priority to market access without addressing the non-trade concerns.

The G10 expressed concerns about addressing market access and domestic support in agriculture without taking up market access for industrial goods, and services.

Brazil, which has almost buried the G20 developing country coalition that i t had founded along with India, China, and several other countries in August 2003, has now rejoined its traditional allies such as Australia, Argentina, and Chile among others in the Cairns Group.

At the meeting, Brazil said the domestic support and cotton are two issues that must be discussed.

It said members should try for incremental outcomes. Brazil signalled its intention to work with the US on new ideas for energizing the agriculture negotiation s.

Australia, which was the first to speak on behalf of the Cairns Group at the meeting, underscored the need for "addressing the inherent risks to global agricultural trade and food security caused by the accumulation of excessive domestic support entitlements."

The Cairns Group suggested that trade-distorting domestic support by just nine major countries - Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States - will reach an estimated USD1 trillion by 2030.

The Cairns Group said "the entitlements for trade-distorting domestic support by just nine major Members under Article 6.3 and 6.4 of the Agreement alone will reach an estimated USD 1 trillion by 2030."

"We must further our work to create new disciplines on domestic support now , in order to prevent the continued accumulation of massive trade-distorting support entitlements which could be used to devastating effect on world markets in years to come," Australia said.

Effectively, the Cairns Group is attempting to change the goalposts for domestic reduction commitments by moving away from the Rev.4 reduction commitments of 2008.

Australia and Brazil did not even mention the Doha agriculture work program, nor the previous ministerial mandates of 2005, 2013, and 2015.

To reinforce its support for the US, the Cairns Group said it "is also open to exploring any ideas across all pillars which help progress the reform objectives of Article 20 of the Agreement on Agriculture."

Almost in line with the US statement, the Cairns Group said "Market Access is an area where no progress has been made since the Uruguay Round, and protection remains substantially higher than for industrial products."

It maintained that "the inherent risks to global agricultural trade and foo d security caused by the accumulation of excessive domestic support entitlements" must be addressed.

The EU said its top priorities include the domestic support reduction commitments and an outcome on the public stockholding programs for food security.

In short, the US, Australia, and Brazil are working in concert to hijack the Doha agriculture negotiations away from its core mandate to their demands on market access.

But Australia and Brazil seem oblivious to the dangers of openly aligning with the US on agriculture at a time when Washington is atrophying market access for their agricultural products in China if the current bilateral negotiations between the US and China are any indication.

According to a report in Financial Times on 28 May, "Washington is pressing Beijing to enter into multi-year contracts to buy US agricultural and energy imports as part of a broader trade deal aimed at reducing the $337bn bilateral trade deficit with China."

"But the move could mean taking Chinese business away from key US allies such as the EU, Australia, Brazil and Argentina, whose exports could be hit by President Donald Trump's gambit."

Effectively, the US reset will have no value when it is finalizing its market access gains at gunpoint.

 


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