Doha talks still offer hope for ag trade

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — The long-running Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations is evolving toward a focus on the “horizontal process,” with countries moving to prioritize demands and make concessions between agricultural trade, manufacturing and services, according to Rebecca Bratter, U.S. Grains Council (USGC) director of trade development.

Bratter, who just returned from a Doha assessment in Geneva, said there is a sense that countries are entering a “trade-off phase” where a concession in agricultural market access is considered in the context of what gain it may produce in industrial market access.

“The negotiations are moving forward, and it’s now very clear what the remaining sticking points are,” Bratter said. In an attempt to move towards a final agreement before 2012, “we are concerned the U.S. diminished its focus on new agricultural market access and is more focused on gains in the industrials.”

Even so, a successful conclusion of Doha could produce genuine benefits for the U.S. grain industry in terms of new access in developed markets and enforcement of a generally accepted set of transparent disciplines on trade and market access.

“The council is particularly focused right now on improved access to developing markets like China and India,” Bratter said. “Doha creates a regulatory system that will help level the trade playing field, generate growth of the consumer class, and promote significant new sales of U.S. agricultural products.”

The next indicator of how negotiations are progressing will come from the bilateral meetings the U.S. is conducting with China and India. The council also hopes to see movement in bilateral talks with Brazil.

“Progress on these bilateral agreements would move the ball forward significantly,” she said. “But any agreement has to cover all sectors, not just agriculture, and ultimately, the agreement will rest not on the will of a few countries but on a multilateral consensus on trade.”

Doha negotiations resume this week and continue through March. There is talk that revised texts for agriculture, industrials and services are expected to be submitted before Easter. The council will continue to remain involved in the discussions and communicate industry priorities to U.S. and key trade partner negotiators.
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