Saturday, June 24, 2006

In the land of the square bracket

Just how far apart the leading participants in the Doha Round are on farm trade issues is revealed in a draft paper on modalities published by the chair of the agricultural negotiations, Kiwi Crawford Falconer.

Falconer was obliged to admit that his document is 'inelegant' and it contains no less than 760 pairs of square brackets, indicating a lack of agreement, in a document of 74 pages. This beats the current world record of 402 square brackets in the Seattle draft in 1999.

It is difficult to see any progress on the key issues. For example, there is no narrowing of positions on sensitive products with the text stating that 'each member shall have the right to designate up to [1-15] per cent of dutiable tariff lines as "sensitive products"'.

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the ministerial meeting in Geneva expected for June 28 - July 3 will fail to make the badly needed significant progress. There is, however, an increasing realisation that the whole Doha Round is in jeopardy given the need for a timetable that will allow for American approval under fast track negotiations.

High level political leaders need to intervene effectively to ensure a renewed focus on the broad picture rather than the ad valorem tariff for butter. That is not an easy task, however, given that many (from American politicians to NGOs, not to mention the French) are arguing that no agreement is better than a bad agreement. What is increasingly likely is that this will be the last omnibus trade round as they hinder as much as help progress towards fairer world trade.

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