WTO agreement needed by mid-2007

COUNTRIES MUST reach agreement on World Trade Organisation agricultural negotiations by mid-2007 for the current Doha talks to be successful and move forward.

That was the message to farmers from former US Department of Agriculture official, Jim Grueff, speaking at today’s (16 November) Crops Conference near Perth, Scotland.

“The talks desperately need a deadline in order to keep breathing and move forward. So far there has been very little attempt to compromise, as countries are keen not to show signs of weakness.”

He suggested a deal must be reached by mid-2007, as this is when the US ‘trade promotion authority’ legislation expires, a key date recognised by most WTO participants. The legislation essentially requires the US congress to accept or reject a trade deal by this date without negotiation, he said.

Mr Grueff said that a year and a half should be enough time to get a formal plan in place, as much of the work has already been done.

“New WTO rules on agricultural subsidies will probably not require changes to the current Common Agricultural Policy, but it will prevent going back to the old system. The new WTO agreement will push policymakers worldwide towards further use of decoupled payments.”

Improving market access by removing agricultural export subsidies needs to be the main focus for successful talks, but this is likely to benefit developing countries most, he added.

“There’s a lot to be gained for developing countries, but they need to change their attitude and allow some measure of market access.”

He acknowledged that for the short term at least, many developing countries will not have to meet the same environmental and animal welfare standards as more developed areas like the US and EU.

“The reality is that negotiations to reduce export subsidies and improve market access are so difficult already this is beyond the scope of what’s possible in these talks. Maybe in the future we can look at creating a more ‘level playingfield’ but it’s not going to happen in this round.”

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