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Events

The Fifth WTO Ministerial Conference
Cancún, Mexico from 10 to 14 September 2003

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Daily Reports (see reports from other days by clicking here)

Saturday September 13, 2003

New Draft Text on Agriculture Faces Strong Criticism on Development Front
Amber McNair, University of Toronto

A new draft text on agricultural negotiations was released early Saturday afternoon. On the contentious issue of agriculture, the new text states that “all developed countries shall achieve reductions in trade-distorting support significantly larger than in the Uruguay Round, that will result in Members having the higher trade-distorting subsidies making greater efforts.” The text makes numerous statements about the percentage of tariffs and subsidies to be reduced by particular dates but percentages and actual dates have been left out of the agreement. That is, statements remain vague. Furthermore, the draft states that negotiations on investment (the Singapore issues) will proceed despite the widespread resistance to this position [1].

The new draft allows countries that heavily subsidize agriculture to manoeuvre around the issue of eliminating subsidies (subsidies are shuffled among products and used in different ways but have little, if any, net effect in reducing trade distortion). The commitment to the total elimination of subsidies is absent, and subsidy reduction on particular products has become the focus, rather than the wider, all-inclusive approach of the Doha mandate. The new version also extends the “Peace Clause,” which makes it difficult for developing countries to challenge export dumping [2].

According to Oxfam, “The rich countries are ignoring the ground-swell of opinion coming from the G21, the AU-ACP-LDC [African Union–African, Caribbean and Pacific countries –Less Developed Countries] Alliance, the Cairns Group and millions of citizens. If the EU and U.S. continue to ignore the voices of the vast majority of the WTO members and the world population they are putting the Doha Round at risk” [3].

Most blocs have not yet commented on their positions toward the draft. Regularly scheduled press briefings have been cancelled for the time being, presumably as countries come to terms with the new text and decide how to go forward from this point. However, Hegel Goutier, the spokesperson for the ACP, AU and LDC group of countries, expressed his disappointment clearly. He said the new draft did not meet their expectations and that the EU and U.S. could have been more flexible on cotton. When asked whether he was surprised, Goutier replied: “No.” The U.S. and EU indicated they were not going to move very much in the direction sought by the newly formed group of poor and net importing countries. “If we don’t succeed, the consequences are huge.” This group represents more than 90 developing countries, 70 of which are members of the WTO.

The Draft Cancun Ministerial Text states that the WTO reaffirms “declarations made at Doha. Thus far, however, the draft has only met criticism for failing to live up to its name of the “development round.” With a day and half left for negotiations, time is running out to find consensus.

Notes

1 Oxfam Press Release, “EU and U.S. Put Agriculture in the ‘too hard’ Basket,” September 13, 2003. These are the contentious Singapore issues that most developing countries have agreed should be relegated to the back burner until consensus is reached on agriculture.

2 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Press Release, “Draft Text Continues Promotion of Agricultural Dumping,” September 13, 2003.

3 Oxfam, ibid.

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