The long-running Doha round of talks will fail to reach a deal to broadly liberalize global trade this year, and should instead seek a smal ler-scale agreement in the near term, Australia s trade minister said last Friday.
The Cairns Group of 19 agricultural exporters, including Australia, Canada, Brazil and Argentina, met in Saskatoon last week to find ways to salvage the 10-year-old Doha talks to liberalize trade.
The WTO has scheduled Doha talks to resume in Geneva in December.
We re less concerned about the shape of the down payment and more concerned to deliver some confidence that negotiators after a decade can achieve something, said Trade Minister Craig Emerson, in an interview with Reuters at the end of Cairns meetings.
A short-term deal may focus on giving the least-developed countries new market access, he said.
The current course is not going to get us there it s not a matter of requiring more time, Emerson said.
If you keep bashing your head against a brick wall and the brick wall doesn t show signs of fracturing, then it s probably smart to stop hurting yourself.
Emerson said he nonetheless thinks future talks toward a sweeping deal should cont inue under the Doha framework.
Many farm groups, however, don t want the WTO to settle for an interim deal for fear that it would then never achieve loftier goals. Farmer organizations from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay, who were also meeting in Saskatoon, issued a statement on Thursday urging the WTO to focus on a sweeping deal.
The Cairns Group s communiqu on Friday expressed disappointment at the failure of Doha, but stopped short of suggesting abandonment of the talks.
We must move beyond a business as usual approach, said Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who coled Cairns meetings with Emerson.
The United States, which is not a Cairns member but attended as a guest, led off discussions on Thursday by saying Doha talks haven t worked and a new approach is needed.
Few top-level trade and agriculture ministers attended the Cairns meetings and no one represented the WTO.
Liberal i zed agr icul tural trade is critical to feeding the world s growing population, Emerson said, and he linked food-security concerns to spring uprisings in Arab countries.
Trade liberalization is prized by both developing countries and major farm exporters like Canada, which produces far more wheat, canola, beef and pork than its domestic market can consume.
It is disappointing for us because we thought there had been some gains made (in negotiations), said Humphrey Banack, who farms 5,000 acres of grains and oilseeds in Alberta. The loss of the Doha round will set us back.
But farmers, like WTO countries, are hardly united in pressing for more liberal trade laws. Canada s biggest farm organization, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, refused to sign a communiqu from international
farm groups this week because it didn t offer enough support for domestic farmer support measures.
The National Farmers Union said farmers earn greater returns under some protectionist measures, such as Canada s supply management system for its dairy sector, which the government refuses to give up.
Liberal i zed agr icul tural trade is really a step backward and a mistake, said NFU Canada president Terry Boehm.
Ifyoukeepbashingyourheadagainst abrickwallandthebrickwalldoesn t showsignsoffracturing,thenit sprobably smarttostophurtingyourself.
AUSTRALIAN TRADE MINISTER CRAIG EMERSON