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Glimmers of Hope Emerge in WTO Talks on Trade Facilitation, Agriculture, LDCs

Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Just weeks after warnings that World Trade Organization members risk failing to conclude a trade liberalization agreement at this December’s WTO ministerial meeting, there are tentative signs that progress may finally be on the horizon.

In April WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said “the current pace of work is largely insufficient” to yield an agreement in December covering trade facilitation, agriculture and least-developed country issues. Noting that there was little if any real negotiation going on, he called on delegates to take “a hard look at where flexibilities can be found.” U.S. and European Union officials called the current situation “grim” and said a failure this year risks permanent damage to the WTO.

On April 30, however, U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke said the U.S. has “identified areas where we can demonstrate additional flexibility in an effort to move discussions forward.” On trade facilitation, he said, the U.S. is prepared to revise its demands concerning the scope of advance rulings and the factors considered in imposing penalties for customs violations. The U.S. is also willing to agree to some of the proposals put forward by the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group on an early warning mechanism that would allow LDCs to delay implementation of specific commitments under a trade facilitation pact, “even where these proposals are a stark departure from existing and well-functioning WTO procedures on extending implementation periods.”

On agriculture, Punke said the U.S. “is open to a work program on food security that can examine the full range of trade-related government measures that can contribute to that goal.” The U.S. believes this work should examine not only the role of public stockholding and administered prices but also “how to improve food security through better-functioning markets, including further liberalization in agriculture trade, reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, elimination of export restrictions, improved transparency, and efficient distribution systems.”  On development, the U.S. wants a result that includes a new monitoring mechanism that promotes the utilization and effectiveness of special and differential provisions.

Press reports indicate that at least a dozen other WTO members showed signs of moving off their entrenched positions as well. However, others reportedly said these flexibilities are not enough to earn their support. Punke said that while the April 30 meeting was a good start, “now the question is whether we can all work together in the next few weeks to begin building results for Bali.”

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