The trade and farm ministers are scheduled to take part in a ministerial meeting of six major players - United States, European Union, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia - in the World Trade Organization negotiations Friday and Saturday in London.
Market access remains the hot-button issue for this weekend. U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman says this weekend's meeting is not intended to be the breakthrough meeting. "But I do think it is the opportunity that we have as at least the G6 group and representing a larger group of members to for the first time be able to look at the actual impact of those various possible modalities or frameworks, particularly in agriculture and NAMA," he says.
The time is ticking for the Hong Kong agreed upon deadline of April 30th to come up with numbers for the formula. Portman explains that with only six weeks until that deadline, reaching decisions on thresholds, percentage decreases within each threshold and dealing with tariff cap issues and sensitive products and tariff rate quote treatment will top this weekend's agenda.
Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile reminds that the "so-called G6 mechanism, if you like, is not about final decision making, it's about moving key players and key interest groups towards that," he says. "The final decision making has got to take place in Geneva, and that's a very valid point. But something has to happen in the mean time and the catalyst for that probably needs to be this meeting this weekend."
Vaile adds that different countries need to move ahead together in order to achieve the needed goals laid out in the Doha round. "But we've been dancing around these issues for a long, long time now and we really need to converge on what is acceptable," he says.
EU Ambassador visits Michigan
John Bruton, European Union Ambassador to the United States, met Tuesday with the president and other members of the Michigan Farm Bureau. During a visit at Horning Dairy farm in Manchester, Ambassador Bruton talked about the agricultural trade relationship between Europe and the United States and the prospects for the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization.
Speaking of the Doha trade talks, Bruton points to a number of agriculture concessions the European Union has already tabled, including a 70% cut in trade distorting agricultural subsidies and a complete elimination of the much criticized export subsidies by 2013.
"The European Union is moving aggressively away from assisting production with pocket funds," he says. "We have moved from a situation in the 1980's where our aid was mainly based on price support and export subsidies, to a point where almost 90% of the EU's direct aid to farmers is non-trade distorting as it will be decoupled from production at the end of the reform process. But that is something that takes time. We have a program for doing it. We have certain budgetary periods we have to respect. Just as the farm bill is seen as a contract with American farmers here, the seven-year budget perspective of the European Union is seen as a form of contract with Europe's farmers."
Bruton says the EU offer on the table for the Doha negotiations also provides significant levels of new market access. "We have no plans to make any further offers in agriculture trade but will look to emerging economies to see if they will lower their barriers to manufactured goods and services," he says.
He adds that he is optimistic that the United States, the EU and other WTO partners will be able to narrow their differences on agricultural trade so that " ... hopefully an agreement can be achieved by the end of this year, even though it is not a certainty."