A Point of Contention for WTO Trade Talks

The U.S. Grains Council notes efforts are intensifying in Geneva to secure a trade package for consideration at the December World Trade Organization Ministerial in Bali. A Council fact-finding mission recently joined representatives of U.S. Wheat Associates and the American Farm Bureau Federation in intensive discussions on agricultural issues with WTO representatives. They also focused on the missions of several key governmental participants. The Council says the G33 Food Security proposal - spearheaded by India and supported by a broad coalition of other lesser developed countries - is a particular point of contention. India is seeking WTO accommodation of its plan to implement a massive food security initiative to fund the domestic purchase and distribution of wheat and rice - and perhaps other cereals as well - to the poor at heavily subsidized prices. The proposal has attracted vigorous opposition because India is already in excess of its allowable domestic subsidy levels and this initiative would violate its WTO obligations. But the Grains Council says it's also widely believed that failure to reach a resolution of this issue would make it impossible to achieve a successful Ministerial in Bali. The long-stalled Doha Round is already on life support - so there is pressure to find an accommodation - perhaps be ensuring the G33 include increased transparency, adequate safeguards and be strictly time-limited.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo is pressing for a consensus by the end of the month to allow time for the General Council to endorse a proposal ahead of the Bali Ministerial. The Grains Council notes the proliferation of bilateral and regional trade agreements has led many observers to believe the WTO process is superfluous. The Council says it's clear - however - that broad based, enforceable multilateral agreements are preferable to piecemeal deals if they can be reached.

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