WTO Round Dead for Now

Ag Secretary Johanns says changes still needed in next farm bill to prevent WTO challenges. Jacqui Fatka

Published on: Jul 24, 2006

Trade negotiators headed to Geneva over the weekend with the objective of achieving a breakthrough in the Doha Development Agenda. However, after realizing the gaps were "unbridgeable" World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy suspended indefinitely the ongoing talks.

Despite finger-pointing from the European Union, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab stood by U.S. actions that the round did not fail because of lack of action from the United States. "The United States cannot be in a position to negotiate with ourselves," she told reporters in a conference call.

Last week negotiators headed to Geneva after a G8 meeting and then returned home to their governments to decide whether more room was available. Sunday, July 23, Lamy met one-on-one with individual ministers from the G8 countries. Schwab states she'd been given permission from Congress and the White House to offer deeper cuts in the U.S. offer if additional market access was offered by others. Schwab states despite the push for more, other countries had not offered more than four weeks ago, even four months ago.

Trade Promotion Authority expires July 1, 2007. Schwab says with today's suspension it is impossible to have a deal done by that time frame now.

Farm bill still needs change

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns says even though the WTO round failed, the farm bill still needs changes to meet the growing needs of U.S. farmers as well as prevent further WTO challenges similar to Brazil's cotton case.

Johanns says he heard so consistently in the farm bill forums the need for reform in current U.S. farm subsidies and delaying writing one won't benefit farmers on a whole. "Every four to five years we have the opportunity to examine farm policy. I believe it is important for all farmers for Congress to draft farm policies that are equitable, predictable and beyond legal challenge," he says.

If the round truly does collapse with a flat end to the round, other countries will be looking at our programs to challenge. But the U.S. won't be alone in challenges, he says, adding the EU is in a worse position than the United States in challenges.