WTO To Miss Farm Trade Deadline

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has abandoned plans to hold a major ministerial meeting in Geneva this week, ensuring its members will miss an end-of-April deadline for agreeing on precise formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy told reporters on April 24 that the ministerial meeting had been cancelled because the split between major players on how to liberalize world trade remains too wide.

“It is not good news but we have to face reality,” Lamy says. “We have a missed deadline but we have no deadlock. Negotiations have been moving forward in the recent past.”

No new deadline will be set and negotiators will now try to agree on the tariff-cutting formulas as soon as possible. Work must be stepped up if members are to conclude Doha round negotiations in time, Lamy says.

Time is tight for the entire Doha round because President Bush’s “fast-track” trade authority expires in July 2007. That authority requires Congress to either accept or reject international deals as a whole, without being able to pick them apart line by line.

Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, who is currently in charge of the WTO farm trade talks, told reporters April 21 that he saw no point in setting a new deadline for a deal on cutting tariffs and subsidies.

Falconer says member states should concentrate less on questions of deadlines and more on getting the job done and negotiating a pact. "Deadlines have no credibility," he says.

Falconer and other diplomats say there had been some advances during the latest round of discussions on subjects such as food aid, export competition and non-distorting state aid to producers.

But major powers remain far apart on key issues. The European Union and the U.S. blamed each other on Friday for the lack of progress.

Further complicating matters is the fact that U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman will be leaving his post after being tapped by President Bush last week to head the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

Editors note: Richard Brock, The Corn and Soybean Digest's Marketing Editor, is president of Brock Associates, a farm market advisory firm, and publisher of The Brock Report.

To see more market perspectives, visit Brock's Web site at www.brockreport.com.