US farm cuts offer at WTO not enough for developing nations
Brazil dismisses The United States’ offer to cut official aid to its farmers to USD 15 billion a year.23 July 2008
GENEVA - A global trade deal appeared as elusive as ever Tuesday after two days of talks, with developing countries dismissive of a US proposal on farm subsidies a day after a European initiative went nowhere.
The United States offered Tuesday to cut official aid to its farmers to USD 15 billion a year in a bid to spur movement at WTO trade talks but found no support from key player Brazil.
"Nice try," said a member of the Brazilian delegation, adding that the proposed new subsidy level was "still too high." Brazil has been acting here as an unofficial spokesman for developing countries.
Brazil's chief WTO negotiator Celso Amorim subsequently struck a slightly more positive note, saying the US move "proves the engagement of US in the negotiations but with a low level of ambition."
One member of Brazil's negotiating team here in Geneva stressed that the US only doled out USD 8 billion in agricultural subsidies in 2007 due to soaring commodity prices - and that thus the "cut" offer could in effect enable Washington to double the amount of money it hands out to its farmers.
Tuesday's exchange, highlighting a gulf between developed and emerging market countries, came as ministers from some 35 nations met in Geneva to try to break a seven-year deadlock in the Doha round of World Trade Organisation liberalisation negotiations.
Developing countries have voiced deep frustration at what they say have been inadequate offers on market-opening measures from rich participants such as the United States and the European Union.
But on Tuesday, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the world's largest economy was now prepared to cut its farm subsidies in exchange for an "ambitious market access outcome."
She stressed that the offer was conditional on improved access for industrial products in emerging countries and a guarantee that US farm subsidies would not face any further legal action at the WTO.
"These reductions are not offered in isolation and must be accompanied by significant market openings" in both agriculture and industrial products, she told reporters.
The EU welcomed the US move but said there was still room for more flexibility from the Americans as talks continue throughout the week.
"This is a reasonable offer at this stage," said EU trade spokesman Peter Power.
"It is not the furthest the US could go but we assume this depends on the remaining negotiations and a balance being achieved in other sectors," he added.
Non-governmental organisations were scathing in their reactions however, with the Geneva-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) branding it "absurd" and Oxfam International saying it was "vastly inadequate."
"Fifteen billion (dollars) is around twice what the US is (really) spending at the moment.
They would not have to cut a penny off current subsidies as a result of this offer," said Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International.
Hobbs also denounced the US bid to secure immunity from any further WTO legal action as "tantamount to admitting intention to break the rules in the future. It adds insult to injury."
The US overture came after an abortive attempt by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson to jolt the talks into movement on Monday with an announcement that the European Union was ready to extend tariff cuts on agricultural products from 54 percent to 60 percent.
But even Mandelson's fellow EU commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said the offer was "nothing new" and Brazil dismissed it as "propaganda".
The EU and United States are both linking concessions in farm trade to steps by emerging countries to open up more to their manufactured goods.
Argentine negotiator Nestor Stancanelli said he saw "real negotiations" as beginning only Tuesday. He said the Doha round's NAMA component, covering industrial products, was a main sticking point.
"The NAMA text, for many of us, does not reflect the positions of many members ... The NAMA text is presented as if it were already a result," he said.
Negotiations were further hampered by the absence of Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath. A key player, he was in New Delhi for a crucial government no-confidence vote sparked by left-wing opposition to a nuclear energy deal with the United States.
The Indian government narrowly won the vote and Indian Commerce Secretary Gopal Pillai told AFP that Nath was due in Geneva early Wednesday.
The Doha round of negotiations was launched amid high hopes in the Qatari capital in November 2001. But it has foundered ever since as developed and developing countries bicker over how to cut agricultural subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods.
[AFP / Expatica]