Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Doha prospects look bleak

The prospects for progress in the Doha Round trade talks are looking increasingly bleak with some analysts doubting whether a successful conclusion will be possible. The political shakeup in the Bush administration does not help. USTR Rob Portman will be leaving his job to head up Bush's budget team.

Portman was brought in by Bush 11 months ago to negotiate a successful outcome to the Doha Round. His replacement is being interpreted by some as a sign of reduced US interest in the round. His replacement, the current deputy Susan Schwab, is regarded as a knowledgeable trade lawyer but as lacking the political clout of her predecessor who was well connected in Congress.

There is concern about how far Europe can negotiate effectively given the weakness of the new government in Italy and the continuing political upheaval and uncertainty in France which faces presidential elections next year. German Chancellor Angela Merkel may be required to take a leadership role.

It is now clear that the April 30 for agreeing modalities in agriculture (i.e., hard numbers) which was set at the Hong Kong ministerial will now be missed. The only area where progress has been made is on the Blue Box where there is broad agreement that the figure at which spending would be capped could be reduced from 5 per cent to 2.5 per cent of domestic spending. But there is still an argument about whether this discipline can be made effective, e.g., by introducing commodity specific disciplines.

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