Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hong Kong WTO trade talks near failure

With tear gas in the streets and little substantial progress in the halls where trade talks are held, the WTO negotiations in Hong Kong look like a failure (see the report by Keith Bradsher in tomorrow's New York Times).

Important provisions sought by the United States were not included in the draft. The agreement did not set a clear date for an end to most subsidies for agricultural exports and did not require countries to lower their tariffs on farm goods....

Before the talks, [United States trade representative Rob] Portman persuaded Congress to support an offer of deep cuts in American farm subsidies and the lifting of many barriers to agricultural imports. He promised to seek corresponding cuts from other countries, and especially from the European Union....

"The business community was encouraged by Portman's offer on agriculture, and the Congress accepted that on the understanding that he would bring back an agreement of corresponding value," said Thomas J. Donahue, the president and chief executive of the United States Chamber of Commerce....

Inside the hall, many ministers from developing countries voiced unhappiness that the European Union had not agreed to set a date for the elimination of export subsidies, despite an international agreement in July 2004 to phase them out.

The draft text set two possible dates for eliminating farm export subsidies: either 2010, or five years after a global trade agreement begins. Such an agreement could be far away, given the pace of negotiations, trade specialists warned. Leaders of the European Union agreed on Friday to a budget that maintains farm subsidies through 2013 at more than double American levels.

Export subsidies help rich countries sell food in poor countries, depressing income that some of the world's poorest people get when they sell in local markets the food they produce. "For them, an end date is absolutely essential," said Foreign Minister Celso Amorin of Brazil.

European Union officials vowed not to accept a deadline of 2010 and complained that not enough had been done on services.

This failure may well mean that farmers in developing countries face another decade of striving in vain against the blasting current of subsidized American and European grain, which washes their markets away like a flood. Weblogger (and soon-to-be Fletcher School faculty colleague at Tufts) Daniel Drezner provides a first-hand account of being in lockdown in Hong Kong, and also refers readers to this "link-rich post" from the weblog Simon's World for the latest news.

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