FOREIGN AGRICULTURAL SERVICE
The Doha Development Agenda (DDA) was launched in November 2001 at the Fourth Ministerial Conference, held in Doha, Qatar. The DDA emphasizes the importance of integrating developing countries into the global trading system. In particular, the DDA aims to incorporate agriculture into a comprehensive framework that includes negotiations on industrial tariffs, services, dispute settlement, and other trade issues.
The ambitious agenda for agricultural trade liberalization is based on three negotiating “pillars,” which call for substantial improvements in market access, reducing and phasing out export subsidies, and substantially reducing trade-distorting domestic support.
Following the collapse of the Fifth Ministerial Conference, held in Cancún, Mexico on September 10-14, 2003, the United States proposed a way forward for reaching an agreement on the DDA. Maintaining that the focus should be on market access, including an elimination of agricultural export subsidies, the United States was instrumental in shaping the July 31, 2004 Framework Agreement. The Agreement sets broad guidelines, offering a roadmap for future discussions on specific modalities (i.e., the specific targets, formulas, timetables, etc…).
Despite this Framework Agreement, DDA negotiations continued. Again, the United States moved to break the impasse, offering a very bold detailed proposal with specific modalities for adopting new disciplines on each of the three major agricultural reform pillars. At that time, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson welcomed the “constructive step by the US on agricultural domestic support,” and pledged that “the EU will match – and indeed go substantially beyond – the 60% cut in the most trade distorting support proposed by the US.”
The US proposal appeared to break the logjam in the negotiations. Three other major negotiating participants – the EU, the G-20 developing countries, and the G-10, a group of mainly developed countries that are net importers of agricultural products – soon followed with separate proposals of their own. A last minute agreement to end agricultural export subsidies by 2013, rescued the December 2005 Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong. But on other agricultural issues, particularly on the market access, the persisting wide differences in the negotiating proposals have proven to be very difficult to overcome.
On June 22, 2006, Agriculture negotiations Chair Ambassador Crawford Falconer circulated a draft reference paper indicating in brackets the points of divergence on specific modalities. In broad terms, the EU negotiating position appeared to be based on the belief that “substantial concessions” had already been made in the 2003 reforms of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). For the EU, the obvious focus is on the internal market, which does address the issue of domestic support, but offers very little on the market access pillar.
On July 24, 2006 the DDA negotiations were suspended because gaps between the key players appeared to be too wide. Heads of delegations, speaking during an informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee agreed with Lamy that this would be a setback for all members. In his report to the General Council on October 10, 2006 as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, Lamy said that ‘…it is now obvious that the cost of failure, and the missed opportunity to rebalance the trading system would hurt developing countries more than others’.
On December 14, 2006 Lamy reported to the General Council that, ‘an increasing level of engagement’ was starting to appear in consultations by the Chairs of the negotiating groups, stressing the ‘need to maintain the rhythm of the informal work…to exploit the window of opportunity in the first quarter of next year.’
In his report to the General Council on October 10, 2006 as Chair of the Trade Negotiations Committee, Lamy said that ‘…it is now obvious that the cost of failure, and the missed opportunity to rebalance the trading system would hurt developing countries more than others’.
In Lamy’s report to the WTO General Council of February 7, 2007 he asserted that, ‘political conditions are now more favorable for the conclusion of the Round than they have been for a long time,’ adding that, ‘political leaders around the world clearly want us to get fully back to business, although we in turn need their continuing commitment.’
At the informal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee of June 22, 2007 Lamy urged Members to ‘engage fully in the multilateral process led by the Chairs, and put your cards on the table over the coming weeks in Geneva so that we can reach full modalities.’
Agriculture negotiations Chair, Ambassador Crawford Falconer, and non-agricultural market access (NAMA) Chair, Ambassador Don Stephenson, circulated their revised draft ‘modalities’ on July 17, 2007. The drafts were based on WTO Member governments’ latest positions in the negotiations and reflect an assessment of what could be agreed for the formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting subsidies, and related provisions. Their release initiated another intensive series of meetings for Members to try to reach agreement.
On July 27, Lamy pointed to the negotiators’ ‘high level of commitment to concluding the Round’. While noting some significant differences he asserted that ‘…convergence is within our reach if you are all ready to show the necessary will and flexibility to close the gaps’. In opening the Trade Negotiations Committee meeting the previous day, he urged Members to study the draft texts on agriculture and industrial goods during the summer break and come back in September ‘…ready to engage in intensive negotiations.’ He continued,’ …we have already come a long way in this Round, and the distance left to go is not so great – but it will require an extra effort’.
On October 9, 2007 Lamy said in his report on the Doha Round to the General Council, ‘…we have regained a good level of momentum in our work, and the challenge now is to accelerate it in the days and weeks ahead, so that the necessary compromises can be found.’ He warned that,’…now more than ever, time is running against us.’
In response to a question asked during a live on-line global chat on November 16 2007, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy asserted that it was ‘…not surprising that a negotiation on 20 topics between 151 Members who have to agree by consensus takes a bit of time. Remember the previous Round with much less actors and many fewer topics took 8 years. We are clearly now entering the final phase of the negotiations with compromise texts appearing on the table and the challenge is to keep both the level of ambition and the development dimension together. Is this doable so that a conclusion takes place next year? Yes. Am I sure it will get done? No. For the Members to decide.’
From the US perspective, the scope for further concessions hinges upon real and substantial improvements in market access. Whereas some countries appear satisfied to conclude a “Doha Lite” Agreement, weakening the ambition through the so-called “3-S flexibilities” (sensitive products, special products, and the special safeguard mechanism), this approach inhibits the achievement of the fundamental objectives of the DDA. In this respect, several US Congressional leaders have maintained that no agreement is probably better than a bad agreement (see statements Senator Saxby Chambliss and Representative Bob Goodlatte). The current deadlock is deeply regrettable. While others may engage in finger-pointing and acrimony, the United States underscores its commitment to the multilateral process, to the DDA negotiations, and to the WTO. As repeatedly demonstrated in the past, US leadership will continue to work diligently toward achieving a solution that would put the Doha negotiations on a path to a successful and ambitious outcome.
For details on the U.S. proposal see:
For details on the EU proposal see: