Accord Reached On Global Trade
Talks Aim to Cut Farm Aid, Tariffs
By Paul Blustein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 1, 2004; Page A01
GENEVA, Aug. 1 -- Reviving global trade talks that appeared to have collapsed 10 months ago, senior trade officials early Sunday agreed on a series of compromises that could translate into far-ranging changes in the farm policies of the United States, the European Union and Japan and reduced trade barriers around the world.
Capping five days of round-the-clock bargaining at the World Trade Organization's headquarters here, representatives of the WTO's 147 member nations agreed on a framework setting the parameters for completing the Doha Round of negotiations. The round, launched in 2001, stalled in September after a WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, broke down when a group of developing countries led by Brazil and India squared off against the United States and the European Union over farm subsidies and other issues.
"Today's decision is a crucial step for global trade," U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said at a news conference that began close to 2 a.m. Sunday, about an hour and a half after official approval of the framework accord. "After the detour in Cancun, we have put these WTO negotiations back on track."
European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "I said in Cancun that the WTO was in intensive care. Today I can say that it is not only out of the hospital but well and running."
Under the deal struck Sunday, wealthy nations would cut their subsidies to farmers, especially payments that tend to lead to overproduction and gluts in supply on world markets. Such subsidies have been widely condemned for depressing global crop prices and robbing farmers in poor nations of their livelihoods.
In return, developing nations would cut the steep tariffs that many of them maintain on agricultural and industrial goods, expanding market opportunities for rich-country exporters.
But whether those cuts will be deep or shallow, immediate or gradual depends on how far negotiators are willing to go in making concessions as the Doha Round progresses. Sunday's deal leaves a huge amount of detail to be negotiated later, and negotiators here fought hard to keep many of their commitments as vague as possible to maintain their flexibility in the future talks.
The deal's greatest significance may be that it averted a replay of the debacle in Cancun. Many trade experts and officials feared that a second consecutive blowup might delay the Doha Round for years or torpedo it entirely, and some also warned of a potentially damaging impact on the WTO's ability to police global commerce and arbitrate disputes among countries. Already the round is far behind its original timetable of reaching completion by the end of this year.
Asked what the new target date is to end the Doha Round, Supachai Panitchpakdi, the WTO director-general, said only that member countries hope to finish "in the foreseeable future." Still, he said at a news conference, the framework agreement was "historic for this organization," and top officials from a range of countries described themselves as satisfied with the results.
"I think it was recognized here that the developing countries cannot be taken for granted," said Kamal Nath, India's minister of commerce and industry. "The developed nations have comprehended more the concerns of the developing countries."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company