U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns isn't pulling any punches in his talks with international colleagues during the Quint meetings in Australia over the weekend. The agriculture ministers from Europe, Australia, Japan and Canada met along with Johanns to discuss a range of issues. Their conclusion: A lot of work is ahead if Hong Kong World Trade Organization event in December is to be a success.
Johanns told the group that if an agreement on ag trade liberalization can't be reached by December, there's a good change the whole process could be delayed until 2012. The key is the U.S. Farm Bill which would be implemented in 2007 and be in force through 2012. That bill can be shaped by policies set down by the WTO and the Bush Administration has proposed sweeping changes to level the playing field for trade.
Johanns says that if ministers aren't successful in the Doha Round, "the temptation will be to just simply repackage the same" which means the opportunity for real reform globally is lost until 2012.
Mariann Fischer Boel, EU ag commissioner, says there's little room for failure in Hong Kong, but it requires movement in domestic support and export subsidies. However, Japan's ag minister says there's a need to protect domestic agriculture in the trade talks. She notes that there's about 10 weeks to make a "huge effort" and adds that she hopes that's still possible.