A joint delegation of U.S. Grains Council and National Corn Growers Association officials traveled to Geneva last week to meet with negotiators and ambassadors from the United States and other countries.

The delegation also met with World Trade Organization (WTO) leadership, including Director General Pascal Lamy, to discuss the direction of the Doha trade talks and express corn, barley and sorghum trade priorities and concerns.

The group was also joined by representatives from U.S. Wheat Associates who have similar concerns regarding the outcome of the round. 

Despite the negative outlook on the fate of the Doha round, the timing of the trip was critical in sending a strong signal that the U.S. grain industry supports a successful conclusion of the round that balances domestic support reductions with significant new market access opportunities, particularly in developing countries.   

“Our goal was to determine the direction the Doha round is headed and to express our concerns about grain industry priorities,” said Chip Councell, USGC Advisory Team leader and delegate for Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board. “The U.S. grain industry must keep working with U.S. negotiators to focus on new agricultural market access.”

However, in meetings with U.S. negotiators and delegates from China, Brazil, Japan, the European Union and Ambassador David Walker, chair of the agricultural negotiations, it is clear that significant gaps remain between the level of U.S. ambition on new market access and offers from developing countries such as China and India. 

Bilateral efforts yield little

Michael Punke, ambassador and deputy of United States Trade Representative for the WTO, reported on U.S. efforts to find meaningful concessions from China, India and Brazil but noted that to date, bilateral efforts have yielded little in the way of new offers. 

Lamy has been conducting his own “confessional” sessions with different delegations in an effort to determine if there is any possible acceptable market access configuration that has not yet been considered. 

The U.S. grain industry stressed the importance of working with developing countries to get some level of detail on how they intend to apply the formulas that allow for tariff protection on special products and through the use of the special safeguard mechanism (SSM). Both mechanisms allow for developing countries to protect a generous number of agricultural products from tariff reductions and import surges. Without an understanding of how countries will use these protections, it is difficult for the U.S. grain industry and for U.S. agricultural interests in general, to determine the real value of a Doha market access package.

Lamy provided perhaps the most dire assessment of the consequences of not reaching an agreement before 2012, expressing concerns that the round may fail and there may be a need to begin thinking beyond Doha, harvesting the issues on which there is agreement, or adding new issues such as sanitary and phytosanitary measures and climate change to create a more viable and current negotiating package.

The Council is not giving up on the prospects of a successful agreement and will continue to support U.S. negotiators’ efforts to move forward. Despite the outlook, Ambassador Punke reminded the delegation that while the failure to achieve a Doha agreement may tarnish the WTO, the WTO would continue to exist, WTO rules would continue to discipline trade practices, and the dispute settlement system would continue to function.

“The outlook seemed pretty bleak, but there’s also a sense that most countries haven’t exhausted all their options,” said Rebecca Bratter, USGC director of trade development. “There is probably room to negotiate, and some countries may still be waiting for the right moment to put additional offers on the table. That could still move the round forward.”