Wednesday, December 4, 2013

WTO deal may be possible

Despite gloomy media reports, a world trade deal might come out of meetings in Singapore this week.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz is attending and has set up a teleconference for late Thursday afternoon.

The negotiators made more progress during the last week of November than over the previous five years, said Robert Azevedo, director-general of the World Trade Organization.

The negotiations have dragged on for 12 years.

There appears to be general agreement on agricultural issues, except for India’s insistence on concessions so it can continue to subsidies longer than proposed by the others.

Azevedo said the number of issues in square brackets (points where agreement remained to be reached) was reduced from about 2,000 to 59 during this recent set of negotiations that included an all-night session from Sunday evening until Monday morning.

He said there are too many technical issues remaining to be resolved for the trade ministers to resolve when they come together in Singapore this week.

However, they could agree on a number of issues that have been negotiated and that could result in significant trade agreements.

One of the key issues for Canadian farmers is agreement on the administration of tariff-rate quotas. These are reduced tariffs for limited volumes of imports and are a key feature of Canada’s ongoing protection for dairy and poultry farmers.

Another area of agreement is on subsidies for agricultural exports.

There are nine texts that negotiators have almost completed including four for agriculture and five for developing and least-developed countries.

This round of World Trade negotiations began with the intention of helping poor nations, especially their agriculture development by reducing rich-country farm subsidies and reducing rich-country barriers to their export opportunities in those countries.

At the same time as trade ministers meet on the WTO negotiations, those involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will be looking at the significant progress made so far during those negotiations.

A year ago they talked about closing a deal by the end of this year and while they seem to be close, it’s unlikely that a deal can be finalized for the ministers to sign this week.