Pascal Lamy’s desire, as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), to see the agriculture negotiations draw to a close before the year’s end is, by now, in vain. Delegates representing the WTO’s 151 member countries, who are currently working to revise the compromise presented in July, now “need more time,” a diplomatic source has indicated to AFP.
Although discussions have been relaunched, and despite progress on export subsidies, publication of the compromise text for agriculture has been postponed until February 2008 at the earliest. It’s unlikely that common ground can be reached quickly, given that tensions over the agricultural issues are (still) so high. In evidence of this, Brazil and Canada have just called for the establishment of a dispute settlement panel, renewing their complaints (submitted in July and January 2007, respectively) over U.S. agricultural subsidies. Canada’s Minister of Agriculture, Gerry Ritz, explained that “by requesting this panel, we are trying to level the playing field for Canadian farmers who have to compete against the large distorting agricultural subsidies provided by the U.S.” The United States, for its part, is trying to divert attention to other critical issues, invoking the reluctance of the G20 (heterogeneous group of developing countries within the WTO, led by Brazil and India) to open its markets to foreign industrial products and services. Furthermore, aware that the upcoming close of the Doha Round negotiations will not include resolution of the agricultural issues before the year’s end, Pascal Lamy now hopes to prioritize the question of free trade in services.
Remaining optimistic about the next stage of the negotiations is still, however, de rigueur. International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for example, stated that the negotiations had a “good chance” of succeeding in 2008, while World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick called on the WTO member countries to not let the possibility of a deal slip away. “There are some excellent results on the table, ready to be seized,” he said. Pascal Lamy, for his part, stated that although he did not expect to see a “breakthrough by the end of the year,” it was “possible” that the Doha Round would draw to a close in 2008.