August 23, 2004

Difficult hurdles still to be cleared in trade talks, parliament told

Difficult and complex negotiations still lay ahead to ensure that developing country needs and aspirations were met in the multilateral trade negotiations now under way under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), parliament heard yesterday.
Xavier Carrim, the chief director of trade negotiations in the department of trade and industry, told the two committees dealing with trade that the so-called July package negotiated in Geneva by WTO members to provide a framework for ongoing negotiations had deferred "many difficult decisions" to the next phase.
"This suggests that South Africa will need both to continue to build its capacity to participate effectively in negotiations and to build its alliances in the G20 [Group of 20], the Africa and Cairns groups," he said.
These groups represent countries opposed to the central role played by the Five Interested Parties - the US, EU, Australia, Brazil and India - in setting out the final terms of the agreement on agriculture, especially involving subsidies and market access. The G20, in particular, had demonstrated "growing strength and cohesion" during the talks while the Africa Group had shown more effectiveness and maturity in advancing its interests and making compromises when needed to achieve overall gains. "A positive development was the growing co-operation between the Africa Group and the G20," he said.
The Cairns Group continued to make its presence felt, particularly through Australia's participation in the small negotiating group on agriculture, which had argued for "special and differential treatment for developing countries". Some gains had been made, but US subsidies remained of concern although there had been an "in principle agreement" to eliminate export subsidies at a date still to be agreed.
The next phase of negotiations would deal with issues such as export credits, exports by state trading enterprises and food aid. Talks on the definition of "sensitive products" had been postponed because of the different concerns of developed and developing countries, with the latter being particularly concerned about improved access for their tropical products to developed markets and the need for lower US protection for its cotton farmers.
Negotiations on access of non-agricultural products to world markets were also held up while the EU and others had to drop investment, competition and government procurement from the agenda (Business Report).

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