Skip to content

World Trade negotiations in crisis, EU punishes U.S., and wine deal

The negotiators at the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to meet the April deadline to agree on ground rules for the liberalization of world markets for agricultural and industrial products. According to Oxford Analytica's op-ed in The Hill:
Progress in the Doha Round has consistently fallen short of even the most pessimistic expectations. Four years of talks in Geneva have provided the necessary technical basis for liberalization agreements, but key countries remain unwilling to make politically difficult choices necessary for progress. For example:
• The European Union's offer to cut tariffs that restrict its imports of agricultural goods is far below what the United States and other agricultural exporters are demanding.
• The United States for its part is reluctant to cut its subsidies to its own farmers.
• Major developing countries such as Brazil and India are resisting European Union and U.S. demands for big cuts in their import duties on  manufactured goods.
This triangular deadlock continues, with no indication of any imminent breakthrough. Almost the only noteworthy Doha development in the four months since WTO ministers met in Hong Kong and set the April deadline has been President Bush's apparent downgrading of the Doha Round by moving his very capable chief negotiator, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, to other duties.
Likewise, the Washington Times opines:
If, as many observers argued, the Doha round on trade liberalization was on life support before highly regarded U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman left last week to become White House budget director, it is hard to imagine what can be done to resuscitate trade negotiations now. (...) The political obstacles lined up to block an agreement in the United States pale compared to what confronts European negotiators and politicians in their homelands. If French President Jacques Chirac caved into the pressure from unions and student protesters over relatively minor reforms in France's labor law, imagine how quickly French nerve would collapse when Mr. Chirac or his successor is confronted by French farmers taken off the dole. Italy's political problems are equally daunting. With his political capital reduced, President Bush has apparently decided to cut his losses and toss the Doha failure on the heap next to Social Security reform and tax reform.
Oxford Analytica concludes that time is now "desperately short to complete the negotiations." While past trade negotiations have also been beset by crises and delays, the lack of a real commitment by many parties "makes the outcome increasingly doubtful." According to the Financial Times the US and European Union blamed each other for the setback:
Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, accused the US of lacking realism on agriculture, while the US trade representative's office said it wished the EU would put the same energy into the negotiations as it did in finger-pointing.
EU PUNISHES U.S. FOR VIOLATION OF WTO RULES:
The European Union on Monday imposed new tariffs on U.S. goods, because U.S. companies continue to benefit from the Byrd amendment. From the BBC:
The anti-dumping amendment lets US firms raise a levy from competitors' goods which it deems to be too cheap. The amendment was ruled illegal over a year ago and repealed in February, but US firms are expected to benefit from it for a further two years. This latest penalty brings the total extra tariffs imposed upon the US to $36.9m. Peter Mandelson - the EU trade commissioner - has said that while the trade dispute has been resolved, US firms are still receiving payments. (...) Since the Byrd amendment was passed in 2000, manufacturers in the metals and food businesses among others, have been the recipients of billions of dollars in payments.
Trade disputes should not be exaggerated. The IHT points out:
In a statement, the EU said the Byrd Amendment "has been a long-running irritant in the U.S.-EU trade relationship," but it added "that the huge bulk of EU-U.S. trade is trouble-free."
THE GOOD NEWS: A fine wine sometimes needs some time. After only 20 years of negotiations, the European Union and the United States signed a bilateral wine accord in March 2006, which will bring major benefits for EU wine producers, says the EU:
It will help EU winemakers to build on their current success in the US, which is by far the EU's largest export market. Annual EU wine exports to the US are worth more than 2 billion euros, around 40 percent of EU exports in terms of value. This agreement provides a clear demonstration that the US and the EU can resolve important and complex issues through bilateral negotiations and both sides are committed to doing so in the future.

EU rejects bold US proposal to cut farm subsidies; progress on "open skies"

World trade talks are getting hot and tense. The NY Times/International Herald Tribune criticizes the EU and Japan for rejecting the US proposal that

The United States would slash the allowable farm subsidies by 60 percent. In return, Europe and Japan would cut their subsidies by 83 percent - a higher percentage because countries in Europe, along with Japan, have higher subsidies.

Farm subsidies are a major burden for tax payers and the developing world:

The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its own farmers, encouraging overproduction. That drives down prices and leaves farmers in poor nations unable to compete with subsidized products, even within their own countries. In recent years, American farmers have been able to dump cotton, wheat, rice, corn and other products on world markets at prices that do not begin to cover their cost of production, all because of politicians - and at the expense of American taxpayers. Europe's system is even worse: U.S. farm subsidies are equal to only a third of the European Union's.

The Washington Post's Paul Blustein opines that the global trade negotiations "appear to have reached their gravest moment since the collapse of a WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, two years ago" and blames primarily France for opposing the liberalizing of the EU's agricultural markets:

"We are now down to days," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. "If something isn't put together by the end of this month, then I do really believe that this Doha Round is in real jeopardy. Certainly the Hong Kong meeting would be in jeopardy."

Meanwhile Reuters reports progress on solving the transatlantic aviation disputes:

The European Union and the United States have agreed key elements of a first-stage deal on an "open skies" pact, the two sides said on Friday, paving the way for opening aviation markets on both sides of the Atlantic. The talks, which restarted on Monday after fizzling more than a year ago, aim to loosen restrictions that determine where airlines can fly, boost competition, and possibly ease ownership rules to make international mergers easier to execute.

The magic triangle: Europe, China and the U.S.

The leading neo-con magazine “The Weekly Standard” runs an article on transatlantic disagreements on free trade, airbus and agricultural subsidies, the US trade deficit.

The Europeans and the developing nations profess horror at the appointment of Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. They say he doesn't know anything about development, but really worry that he knows too much: that loans to undemocratic kleptocracies might fatten Swiss bank accounts, but do little to fatten starving citizens of so-called developing countries. But Gerhard Schröder and his friends were reluctant to oppose the Wolfowitz appointment, lest they appear to be snubbing President Bush's recent friendly overtures. So they approved the appointment, and will seek a quid pro quo--the appointment of France's Pascal Lamy to fill the vacancy at the head of the World Trade Organization. Lamy is dedicated to the maintenance of the European Union's protectionist agricultural policy, which further enriches well-off French farmers at the expense of poor farmers in developing nations. If he is appointed, and spurns Bush's proposal to end both E.U. and U.S. export-inducing farm subsidies, the Doha round is doomed.