Lamy wants meeting

WASHINGTON-- Amid signals that World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy is leaning toward scheduling a Doha Round negotiating session in mid-December, the powerful chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and...

WASHINGTON-- Amid signals that World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy is leaning toward scheduling a Doha Round negotiating session in mid-December, the powerful chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees on Dec. 2 wrote to President Bush that they do not think there is any likelihood of an agreement Congress could support.

Lamy has said the meeting might take place Dec. 13 to 15, but that he has not decided if positions are close enough to call the ministers together. But Washington ag lobbyists were preparing to travel to Geneva if the meeting is held.

Little movement yet

"Unfortunately, the negotiating texts currently on the table would provide little if any new market access for U.S. goods, and important advanced developing countries are demanding even further concessions from the United States," wrote Senate Finance committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., Finance ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Ga., House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Ways and Means ranking member Jim McCrery, R-La. They added, "We strongly urge you not to allow the calendar to drive the negotiations through efforts to hastily schedule a ministerial meeting, without adequate groundwork having been laid. . . . Achieving the necessary flexibility from our trading partners could require new thinking, including revisiting the modalities approach, and our negotiators should be given time to explore such options. Otherwise, the likely result will be a deal that Congress cannot support."

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, also is encouraging members of his committee to sign a letter to President Bush urging caution about the administration signing an agreement at this time. A Harkin spokeswoman said that the letter still is in draft form but being circulated to committee members.


"The crux of the letter is that the elements of draft agricultural framework on the table right now in Geneva are not balanced from the perspective of U.S. agriculture, and we would not want the U.S. to agree to a modalities deal that does not fix this imbalance," the spokeswoman said.

The congressional letters follows a Nov. 19 letter that three key U.S. lobbying groups -- the American Farm Bureau, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Coalition of Service Industries -- sent Bush also urging caution.

"We feel strongly that another WTO ministerial meeting should be held only when there is sufficient evidence that WTO members are truly committed to open their markets. We have yet to see such commitment, particularly from the key emerging economies," NAM President John Engler, Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman and CSI President Bob Vastine wrote in the letter.

They praised the Bush administration for refusing to sign weak modalities or framework proposals so far and said the administration should "not allow nations who do not want ambition to lock the incoming Obama administration in a set of weak negotiating modalities that would offer little hope of eventual success."

Tom Buis, president of the National Farmers Union, the farm group closest to Obama, told Agweek Dec. 2 a ministerial meeting should not be held until the administration has a chance to "weigh in." Buis added, "A last-minute deal to get a deal is not better than no deal."

On Dec. 3, Joe Glauber, the USDA chief economist who is U.S. negotiator in the Doha Round of trade talks, said that the World Trade Organization should not hold a proposed ministerial meeting in December unless there is a certainty that it will produce a modalities agreement on how the round should proceed. In the financial crisis, Glauber said, "The last thing anyone wants is a failed ministerial. The world needs positive signals."

'Blackmail tactic?'

Meanwhile, a key Washington-based trade diplomat said that Lamy is using the financial crisis to try "to blackmail" WTO members into reaching agreement on a round that has been stalled for 7 years. The diplomat said he thinks the White House favors a meeting but that USDA and U.S. trade representatives officials fear that an agreement could sour those agencies' relations with Congress in the future.


European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim have publicly urged Lamy to hold the meeting, but Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told Lamy that India will not change its positions, which led to the breakdown of talks in July, the Business Standard, an Indian newspaper, reported. Nath said he told Lamy he is "busy with very serious security concerns" and that "there is no point in having a ministerial meeting in abstract. "But I don't mind being seen as a hurdle if I have to protect the interests of my farmers or farmers in poor, developing countries."

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