WTO Ministerial Conference 13-18 December 2005 - Hong
focus by the United Nations Office of the High Representative
for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing
Countries and Small Island Developing States
Impasse in key WTO talks
World trade expert Professor Jim Rollo explains the current
impasse between developing and developed nations over tariffs
and farm subsidies ahead of crucial World Trade Organisation
The Commonwealth secretary general is warning of a walkout from
the World Trade Organisation by developing nations, as the developed
world isn’t prepared to give up more than it gets. Don
McKinnon was speaking in Malta, and was commentating on yet
another failure by key trade ministers to achieve a breakthrough
in trade talks in Geneva.
Key trade ministers met in Switzerland yesterday. They were
aiming at breaking the impasse over import tariffs and farm
subsidies that threaten to derail crucial talks in Hong Kong
next month. Trade ministers from India, Japan, the US, the EU
and Brazil are scheduled to meet yet again in early December
to try and unblock the road for a final agreement at the end
of next year.
But even as they do, all five are lowering expectations for
next month’s big meeting when all 148 WTO member states
meet in Hong Kong.
I spoke to an expert on world trade earlier, Professor Jim Rollo
from Sussex University’s European Institute, and I put
it to him that when we had last spoken, he suggested the entire
process would end in an enormous fudge.
I think that’s clearly what’s in mind at this point.
They are pretty sure that they’re not going to reach the
agreement on what’s called in the jargon, the ‘modalities’
of the negotiations at Hong Kong. So they’re trying to
do something less than that, but also to signal some forward
movement. They’re going to have to declare victory. Whether
the victory has got any substance to it or not is the key issue.
It’s very unlikely at this stage, by the looks of it.
Well, I think there may be something on what’s called
a development package, which will try and be a down payment
on the development agenda, on issues like aid for trade. Meaning
money to help developing countries adjust to things like preference
erosion and things like that. And perhaps something on cotton
and perhaps something on duty free and quota free access for
the least developed countries. None of those are easy in themselves,
but nonetheless, they might try and do something like that.
I’m looking at a report in the Hindustan Times, quoting
India’s Commerce and Industry Minister, Kamal Naak, who
has just got back to India from the talks, and he says that
to get an agreement by the end of next year, the major players
in world trade, the EU and the United States, and I’m
quoting here: “must make structural changes in their economies
and stop subsidising inefficient sectors, especially in agriculture.”
And that is the developed world’s position, it has been
for a number of years, and it’s not going to change, is
Well, it’s not going to change when implied directly like
that. But still there are just the smallest of chances that
the EU will make yet another offer on tariffs at Hong Kong,
if not before Hong Kong. And that might help things move forward,
but we’re not going to get a big breakthrough at Hong
When you talk about the Europeans making an offer, at the core
of that is the French position, I guess?
As always, as always. They’re in the front line defending
the common agricultural policy. It’s going to be difficult
to move them. One could imagine that if there wasn’t some
more money from the EU budget for agriculture, they might be
persuaded to give up something on tariffs within that sort of
territory, I think. I think there may be a little bit of flexibility
still in the European position, without attracting a French
battle. But to get into the sort of territory that Naak and
others want to get into, particularly on reducing agricultural
tariffs in the EU, I think there is going to have to be a bit
more from the EU than they think they can get away with at this
The voice of Professor Jim Rollo of Sussex University’s
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