July 16, 2008

 

Canada urged to be flexible in WTO negotiations

   
  

The Canadian agricultural industry is urging its government to exercise flexibility so that the long drawn-out Doha Round of trade negotiations, which has lasted seven years, may be concluded this year.

 

Trade ministers will be in Geneva to discuss the latest revised negotiating text distributed last week by Agriculture Negotiating Group Chair Crawford Falconer. The text serves as a blueprint for a final agricultural trade agreement among WTO members.

 

The latest round could be the real deadline, said Darcy Davis, president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance in Ottawa.

 

If an agreement is not reached, Davis said he thinks the entire Doha negotiating process would be put on hold for some time.

 

The US administration will change in 2009, as will the presidency of the European Commission, and those changes alone could seriously alter the dynamic of the negotiating process, he said.

 

Laurent Souligny, chairman of the Canadian Egg Market Agency, or CEMA, in Ottawa, said an agreement would depend on the ministers' ability in July to fill in the remaining gaps in the draft texts for both Agricultural Market Access, or AMA, and Non-Agricultural Market Access, or NAMA.

 

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, said calls to conclude the Round by the end of 2008 have intensified.

 

"Political leaders widely believe that in order to achieve this goal, we must put into place modalities in Agriculture and NAMA by the end of July," he said.

 

Failure to reach an agreement before a new U.S. administration begins in January 2009 could stall talks for years, Lamy said.

 

However, Canadian agriculture minister Gerry Ritz is calling for caution, urging that "there is still much work to be done to resolve the outstanding issues and that "wide gaps" continue to separate many countries' negotiating positions.

 

Ritz also said Canadian officials will continue to press for a trade agreement that protects the country's supply-management industries at the same time as it provides enhanced market access for Canada's export-dependent producers.

 

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance however, takes a different tack. The organisation feels that signing a trade agreement as it currently stands would be beneficial for Canada's producers, the majority of whom are export-dependent, Davis said.

 

There could always be more ambitious reductions made to domestic supports, but overall, the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance is pleased with the latest revised texts and hopes an agreement is reached next week, he said.

 

The Canadian Egg Marketing Agency, meanwhile, is still hoping to see parts of the negotiating text reversed, CEMA's Souligny said.

 

Together the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the Broiler Hatching Egg Marketing Agency, the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency, Chicken Farmers of Canada, and CEMA represent Canada's supply-management sectors, referred to as the Supply Management Five, or SM5.

 

The latest version of the text does not address the problems that CEMA had with the previous draft, namely the amount of proposed reductions in over-quota tariffs and the amount of products that can be classified as sensitive.

 

Canada's Conservative government has come under domestic pressure to reconsider its bargaining stance at the agricultural negotiations, most recently from the influential Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

 

On July 4, the group, which represents 170,000 Canadian businesses, published a letter sent to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in which it called on the government to adopt a more flexible position at the negotiations, specifically as it relates to the government's unwavering defense of supply-management industries.

 

In the letter, the group said it is "untenable for Canada to refuse any reductions in over-quota tariffs" and said the government's unwillingness to be more flexible undermined "he entire, fragile WTO negotiations."

 

It also pointed out that the vast majority of Canadian producers are export-dependent and as such would benefit from tariff reductions.

 

The provincial agricultural ministers from Alberta and Saskatchewan have also called on the Conservative government to adopt an export-oriented bargaining position at the WTO talks.
   

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