USTR Sees WTO Progress in 2004
Zoellick calls for ending agricultural subsidies ''key''
GENEVA, Switzerland - 02/27/04 - Near the end of a round-the-world trip to push for progress in World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says he has seen "encouraging signs that 2004 need not be a lost year."
At a recent press conference in Geneva, Zoellick said he had a "sense that there is an opening to achieve forward progress in 2004," but that it would "not be easy."
Over the past couple of weeks, Zoellick met with representatives of more than 30 WTO members during a trip that began in East Asia and continued through South Asia, Africa and Europe for the negotiating round called the Doha Development Agenda.
From Geneva, he was scheduled to travel on to Paris for a bilateral meeting with European Union (EU) Commissioner Pascal Lamy before returning to Washington and then meeting with agricultural-exporting countries in Costa Rica.
"Everyone I visited seems to have a genuine interest in moving forward, or at least not holding the process back," he said. "Countries are in the process of shifting from wish lists to what they really need, and from restating positions to problem solving."
Critical to moving WTO negotiations forward, he said, are agreeing on a framework for agricultural trade reform and abandoning three of the four so-called "Singapore Issues": transparency in procurement, competition policy and investment. He would still pursue the fourth issue, trade facilitation such as customs reforms.
"First, agriculture is absolutely the key, and we will have to commit to eliminate export subsidies to succeed," said Zoellick.
He said agricultural reform must also include substantial reduction and harmonization of trade-distorting domestic support plus increase in market access, including access among developing countries to each other.
Zoellick made reference to WTO terminology for categories of subsidies. Green box subsidies are permitted by the agreement. Amber box subsidies need to be reduced.
Blue box subsidies, which require farmers to limit production by imposing production quotas or setting aside land, are exempt from WTO limits on subsidies linked to production. Only the EU, Japan and a few other countries use the blue box exemption.
On the Singapore issues, Zoellick said he believed negotiators should "simply focus on trade facilitation and drop the other three."
Continued maneuvering over the Singapore issues, he said, "will cause problems with the Africans and developing countries. We will not focus on what we have to focus on, which is agriculture."
Reminded that sub-Saharan African countries are demanding an end of cotton subsidies, a sensitive issue for the US, Zoellick turned back to the need for eliminating agriculture export subsidies.
The WTO negotiations "will not succeed unless Europe eliminates export subsidies," Zoellick said. "There's just no way around that."
Developing countries cannot open their markets until they see export subsidies eliminated, he said.
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