World Trade Organization:

Progress in Agricultural Trade Negotiations May Be Slow

T-NSIAD-00-122: Published: Mar 7, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 2000.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the negotiations on agricultural trade being conducted by the World Trade Organization (WTO), focusing on: (1) U.S. and other countries' objectives in the agricultural trade negotiations; (2) progress achieved during the 1999 WTO Seattle ministerial conference; and (3) prospects for future negotiations.

GAO noted that: (1) WTO member countries intended to launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations covering agriculture and other issues at their biennial Ministerial Conference last December in Seattle, Washington; (2) the principal objectives of the United States and several other agricultural exporting countries for liberalizing agricultural trade included: (a) elimination of export subsidies; (b) a reduction in trade-distorting domestic agricultural support programs; and (c) an increase in market access for agricultural products in member countries; (3) on the other hand, the European Union and other countries opposed any attempt to eliminate export subsidies; (4) trade ministers meeting in Seattle intended to conclude the ministerial conference with a ministerial declaration that would launch a new round and set the agenda for negotiations in each subject area, including agriculture; (5) there is general agreement by conference participants that negotiations on agriculture made the most progress of any area at the Seattle conference; (6) countries had moved closer to reaching consensus on many of the issues to be addressed and on the timeframes for completing agricultural negotiations in a new round; (7) however, this progress was essentially lost when countries could not reach consensus on an agriculture text, and the conference was adjourned without launching a new round or issuing a ministerial declaration; (8) despite the impasse in Seattle, agricultural trade negotiations will resume this year in Geneva as mandated by the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture; (9) however, it is unlikely that these talks will meet U.S. objectives for liberalizing agricultural trade any time soon, for several reasons; (10) the failure to issue a ministerial declaration may make it difficult for negotiators in Geneva to build on the progress made in Seattle; (11) there is some concern whether countries will be willing to make concessions on agriculture without trade-offs in other areas, as would have been the case in a trade round with a broader negotiating agenda; (12) not much progress should be expected this year, since groundwork must be laid before substantive negotiations can begin; and (13) for example, WTO members have yet to submit proposals as to what should be on the negotiating agenda for agriculture.

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