Trade Negotiations Resume

Technical work on the Doha Development Agenda commenced in early September following the northern summer recess. The first negotiators back to work were those participating in the special session of the Committee on Agriculture.

The agriculture talks have taken up by addressing the draft modalities texts issued in late July. The sessions are honing in on specific items in smaller focussed meetings, commencing with market access. The uptake has however been slow. Related market access discussions in industrial access (NAMA) are scheduled for later in the month. At the recent APEC summit US president Bush was making the right political overtures in continued political support to the Doha process, but warned that he saw that a small group of non-engaged states could see the Round fail. Meanwhile back in Washington agriculture is facing its own domestic hurdles with the Farm Bill, which is the primary legislation supporting US farmers, set to expire at the end of September and probably needing some extension.

Following shortly upon this the WTO director general, Lamy, drummed up enthusiasm for the Geneva process indicating that the narrowing of positions through the July modalities texts would support a ‘sleeves up’ approach to getting back to work, but stressed that the political imperative remained key. On the African front, negotiators seem far more concerned with their European Union relations through the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations. In the southern African configuration there seems to be some tension between South Africa and the EU as regards the best way to assimilate South Africa’s Trade Development and Cooperation Agreement into the EPA process, with the EU experiencing frustration in the pace at which South Africa is proceeding and South Africa grappling with the best way to accommodate the needs of its less affluent and more vulnerable neighbours within its negotiating group, in the face of the EU’s confusing ‘act together yet apart’ approach to engaging the matter. These continued regional difficulties once again underscore the merits in focussing energy on an all encompassing multilateral solution.

The current WTO waiver (an exception) that allows the ACP countries to conduct their trade relations with the EU expires at the end of the year. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU and the ACP will likely be approaching the WTO for an extension of this waiver. While this expiry has been well used to spur a conclusion by year end, it is likely that the weight of numbers with the entire EU and ACP group within the WTO covering more than two thirds of the WTO membership is likely to be determinative in obtaining this renewal. The last quarter of the year is likely to be telling in regard to Africa’s trading environment for the next 5 years.