Market Access a Major WTO Ag Reform Issue
US is ''willing to talk about it,'' senior US agricultural trade negotiator says
WASHINGTON, DC - 05/10/04 - A senior US trade official says market access remains the toughest obstacle to achieving a framework for negotiations on agricultural trade in the World Trade Organization (WTO), according to the Washington File.
Allen Johnson, agriculture negotiator for the Office of the US Trade Representative, said that his office remains willing to consider new ideas on market access, including special treatment for a few products that are especially sensitive in certain countries.
He made his comments at a recent session with a consumer group in Washington.
An agriculture agreement is viewed as crucial to the success of the WTO negotiating round, called the Doha Development Agenda when it was launched in 2001.
In 2002 the US submitted a proposal to?eliminate export subsidies, sharply reduce domestic support, and open market access through lower tariffs.
Johnson said he has seen some hopeful signs at least on eliminating export subsidies.
WTO negotiators seem to understand that the US needs a date certain for elimination and that the European Union (EU) needs reforms on export credits, he added.
On domestic support, he said, the US remains willing to reduce its domestic supports sharply if other wealthy countries do the same and if all participants open their markets.
Market access is especially difficult for countries where 60% to 70% of the people, possibly hundreds of millions, continue to survive as subsistence farmers, he said.
Those countries will need long transition periods to adjust to freer trade, he said.
The draft proposal from the failed September 2003 ministers' meeting in Cancun, Mexico, offered a formula for market access.
In some categories tariffs would be reduced by the same proportion; in others the highest tariffs would be reduced the most.
Johnson said that if participants were willing to negotiate, their market access problems could be addressed using the draft proposal.
"Are people willing to open their markets and be ambitious?" he asked.
He said the US would consider more generous rules for a few special products after negotiators settle on a framework for negotiating tariff cuts, when they get to the point of filling in numbers on the size of the cuts and the time for implementation.
"We're willing to talk about it," Johnson said.
Johnson said ministers would discuss the WTO agriculture negotiations "on the margins" of this week's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) meeting in Paris.
Negotiators have indicated that the practical deadline for agreeing on an agricultural framework is July, ahead of the US general election campaign and ahead of changes in EU Commission membership.
"Will we get there?" Johnson said. "I don't know."
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