WTO Talks Hanging In Balance

As new texts for agriculture and non-agricultural market access have been circulated to WTO members in Geneva members are assessing the full import of last week’s bi-partisan letter from the Congressional leadership on the talks.

Unfortunately, the negotiating texts currently on the table would provide little if any new market access for US goods, and important advanced developing countries are demanding even further concessions from the US,” said a bipartisan letter from Charles Rangel, Max Baucus, Jim McCrery and Charles Grassley. Democrats Rangel and Baucus chair the Ways and Means and the Finance committees respectively, while McCrery and Grassley are the ranking Republican members.

“We see no tangible progress, and in fact believe that some of our trading partners have become even further entrenched in their unacceptable positions.”

“We strongly urge you not to allow the calendar to drive the negotiations through efforts to hastily schedule a ministerial meeting, without adequate groundwork having been laid.

“Developed and advanced developing countries must commit to provide meaningful new market access opportunities if Congress is to support a deal.’

“Achieving the necessary flexibility from our trading partners could require new thinking … and our negotiators should be given time to explore such options. Otherwise, the likely result will be a deal that Congress cannot support – an outcome that would be detrimental to US farmers, workers and firms, the global economy, and the WTO itself.”

While not fatal this letter does make it essential that the texts that have just been circulated signal both a realistic prospect of agreement being possible, and forward movement.  Unless Lamy gets a clear signal from Key WTO members that both pre-conditions are met he will not go ahead with his plans for a Ministerial meeting from 13-15 December.

I will monitor reactions closely over the next couple of days.  A quick glance suggests that the texts do still have some work required before agreement is possible.  And we should not forget the importance of services to achieving an outcome that satisfies all concerns.

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