U.S. negotiators appeared to be standing their ground as WTO members applied renewed pressure today try to get the United States to make more concessions on farm subsidies so they could begin wrapping up a Doha Round agreement.
Reports from a meeting of about one-third of the WTO’s 149 members said U.S. officials had rejected criticism that a proposal tabled by Trade Representative Rob Portman last fall would not bring a significant reduction in U.S. subsidies.
“How could anybody argue that it is not a meaningful reduction, when literally we are saying the very heart of the U.S. farm program is directly impacted by the cuts we have put on the table,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns at a press conference in Geneva. “It is very, very real.”
U.S. analysts say the proposal offered by Portman, who has since become director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, would reduce U.S. farm subsidies by 60 percent. European Union officials claim the proposal would not result in reductions in actual spending.
Farm organization leaders attending the talks in Geneva have been urging U.S. negotiators to stand firm, arguing their members are not willing to see farm subsidies cut from an estimated $16.1 billion to $7 billion to $8 billion with no increase in market access in return.”
“We understand the negotiations are becoming more difficult in regard to agriculture issues such as market access,” said Leon Corzine, National Corn Growers Association chairman and a farmer from Assumption, Ill.
“Corn growers maintain the position that we will not support deeper cuts than what was previously proposed by the United States. The European Union and other trade ministers must understand that expanded market access is key to our industry and whether we will support or oppose approval of a Doha round agreement by the U.S. Congress.”
In a joint statement issued from Geneva and transmitted to Washington, the new U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Secretary Johanns said they continue to believe market access proposals by the European Union are less than what would be accepted by the U.S. Congress and farmers.
“We continue to have high hopes for a meaningful and robust outcome to these talks, and we are urging other countries to seek the same,” the statement said. “The U.S. proposal delivers on the promise of Doha; unfortunately other proposals thus far lack the necessary opinion.”
WTO negotiators have been trying to complete a draft agreement on the Doha Round, which began in Qatar, Doha, in 2001, by July 31, so they could reach a final agreement by the end of 2006. President Bush has said he wants to be able to submit a Doha agreement to Congress for an up-or-down vote before the Trade Promotion Authority that allows him to do so expires in July 2007.
Alejandro Jara, WTO deputy director-general, said the first section of agriculture issues to be discussed at this weekend’s meeting in Geneva will be market access, tariff-reduction formulas, sensitive products, special products and special safeguard mechanism. The second part of the discussions will focus on domestic support, overall cuts, blue box definitions and base period.
Ambassador Schwab has said the WTO would need to improve the market access proposals and that Congress would not agree to support concession beyond the U.S. proposal last fall. But she has also said the agriculture negotiations of the Doha Round are conditional and could be improved or scaled back depending on trading partners’ willingness to make new concessions on market access.
Last week, representatives of the National Cotton Council, USA Rice Federation, the NCGA, the American Soybean Association and other commodity groups met with Schwab to discuss the agriculture negotiations. The commodity groups repeated their position that U.S. farmers do not support additional amber box cuts and believe current market access proposals on the table are not acceptable.