Many argue the latest missed WTO negotiation deadline is a consequence of the disagreement over Iraq that may spread further to the broader WTO talks, as well as other global economic meetings. EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler expressed regret that WTO members failed to meet the 31 March deadline to agree on the modalities for the WTO agriculture negotiations. Despite the obvious disappointment, Mr Fischler looked ahead with some degree of optimism "Several other WTO deadlines have been missed. We have to concentrate our attention on pursuing the negotiations to ensure that we can establish a comprehensive set of modalities and contribute to making the Cancun Ministerial Meeting in September a success."
EU Commissioners Pascal Lamy and Franz Fischler expressed their disappointment over the revised version of the agriculture "modalities" paper, tabled by the WTO agriculture negotiations chairman Stuart Harbinson on 18 March 2003. "We do not see this draft as bringing the WTO Members closer. Harbinson 2 is largely identical to the first draft. Several imbalances remain," said the two commissioners.
The WTO agriculture negotiations chairman Stuart Harbinson himself acknowledged the second draft made only minor changes in a limited number of areas as he received "insufficient collective guidance" from WTO Members and because "positions in key areas remained far apart." While agricultural exporting countries like Australia, the United States and Brazil said Harbinson's proposals did not go far enough, importers like the European Union and Japan said it was imbalanced in favour of the strongest exporters.
50 civil society groups from 30 countries gathered in Geneva on 21 February to express their disappointment with the current Harbinson draft modalities text. Friends of the Earth Europe, ROPPA (West African Peasants' Network), CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development), UK and Broederlijk Delen, Belgium are among the signatories of a statement due to be sent to WTO negotiators shortly. At a press briefing on 24 February, they explained that although only 50 NGOs signed after the first meeting, many more civil society groups are expected to follow suit.
The EU is committed to further liberalisation of agricultural trade, provided that all countries, including the developing countries, and the EU can benefit from it. The Union is ready to further reduce trade-distorting domestic support and export refunds in the current round of WTO negotiations. However, the EU expects its trading partners to accept the same commitments. The EU insists that non-trade issues such as the protection of the environment, food safety and quality are addressed in WTO negotiations.
Under the United States proposal for reforming the rules of global agricultural trade, all WTO members would reduce tariffs using a formula that would demand greater reductions of high tariffs than low tariffs, and result in no tariff over 25 per cent. This would result in global average allowed agricultural tariffs falling from 62 per cent to 15 per cent. The US proposal on domestic support would simplify the current system: subsidies would be considered either trade distorting or non-trade distorting. Trade-distorting support would be capped at 5 percent of the value of agricultural production. This would result in a global reduction of over 100 billion dollars of allowed trade distorting support. Non-trade distorting support would not be limited as long as certain criteria are met.
The Cairns Group of 18 agricultural exporting countries, led by Australia, Argentina and Brazil, wants to see EU agricultural export subsidies eliminated over a period of five years, starting in 2005.
Start of WTO negotiations on agriculture: early 2000;
Formulas and other modalities for countries commitments: by 31 March 2003;
Countries comprehensive draft commitments: by 5th Ministerial Conference, 2003 (in Mexico);
10-14 September 2003, Fifth Ministerial Conference, Cancun, Mexico: Countries' comprehensive draft commitments;
Deadline: by 1 January 2005.