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Sugar beet and cane growers feel threatened by Doha Round

KAMUELA, Hawaii -- The Doha Round is not dead despite the failure of the trade ministerial in Geneva during the last week of July, but moving it forward will be difficult, a range of trade lobbyists said at the American Sugar Alliance symposium f...

KAMUELA, Hawaii -- The Doha Round is not dead despite the failure of the trade ministerial in Geneva during the last week of July, but moving it forward will be difficult, a range of trade lobbyists said at the American Sugar Alliance symposium for beet and cane growers Aug. 5 in Kamuela, Hawaii.

"Unfortunately, this is not the end," said Simon Harris, a trade adviser for British Sugar, a statement that undoubtedly reflected the sentiments of many American cane and beet growers who view the round as a threat to their interests.

Harris says that the many agreements reached at the technical level in the Doha Round would propel trade officials from the World Trade Organization member countries to want to continue the round until those agreements are captured in permanent regulations.

"Too much political capital has been invested" to stop now, Harris said. "We must not underestimate the degree of technical convergence there has been."

Still on the table

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American Sugar Alliance trade lobbyist Don Phillips noted in an inter-

view that the round had been declared dead after a meeting in Potsdam, Germany, in 2007 but that ministers had continued meeting.

"It's hard to say, 'let's call the whole thing off,'" Phillips said.

Harris said the exact list of items to which WTO officials will claim agreement should be known when WTO Director General Pascal Lamy issues a paper on the Geneva mini-ministerial in a few weeks.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said at a news conference at the end of the meeting that the U.S. offer to reduce the limit on its trade-distorting farm subsidies to $14.5 billion per year remains on the table, but Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said it should be withdrawn.

Phillips said that, although some developing countries and representatives of nongovernmental groups said the U.S. and European offers on agriculture were not good enough, there wasn't much pressure on the United States in Geneva to make an even deeper subsidy cut because because the big debate was over India's and China's insistence that they be able to use a special safeguard mechanism to protect their agriculture from increased imports.

The lobbyists had a hard time predicting when another trade ministerial meeting would take place or whether the negotiations would continue with the same dynamics since the round was launched in 2001.

Other talks

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Ken Roberts, a former U.S. trade negotiator who lobbies for Kraft and favors market liberalization, noted that agriculture is not the only issue in the talks. India had problems with manufactured goods negotiations and feared measures that make China more competitive, Roberts said.

Harry Kopp, the Washington lobbyist for the Philippine sugar industry, said high commodity prices and the export controls some countries recently have imposed had made many developing countries less concerned about the round's original goal of reducing trade barriers for potential sales of farm products to developed countries and more concerned about the supply of food for their own food security.

Alf Cristaudo, chairman of the Australian Cane Growers and president of the World Association of Beet and Cane Growers, said that he considers the upcoming Indian elections to be more important to the future of the round than the U.S. elections.

Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath never veered from his position that he would not accept an agreement that would go against India's position that it would not increase agricultural imports at the expense of India's subsistence farmers.

Phillips said the decreasing likelihood that U.S. agriculture will gain substantial new market access to the Indian and Chinese will markets raises questions about whether U.S. agriculture would support the round.

Phillips said Schwab and her staff did not go along with the Chinese and Indian demands because they knew that the U.S. agriculture community would not support a deal that cut U.S. subsidies but provided little new market access.

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