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Johanns Update on WTO Shows Worry over 'Loopholes'

Talk of sensitive and special products along with special safeguards are tools developing countries are using to stifle market access.

The work of trade negotiations is long and arduous. This afternoon, Ag Secretary Mike Johanns paused in his day - 10 p.m. his time - to brief U.S. media about the Geneva meeting. This discussion, which had a different tone than the briefing he gave earlier today in Geneva, talked about key "loopholes" he is concerned about in these negotiations.

"In the past two days of discussions we're getting a clearer understanding of what negotiators mean when market access is mentioned and frankly I'm worried," the secretary says. "There are three major loophole areas - sensitive products, special products, and special safeguard mechanisms - and these are loopholes - that can set aside products to prevent access into the marketplace."

He notes in the sensitive product area alone from 1 to 15% of tariff line items could be set aside as sensitive products. "Anything beyond 2% would lose any advantage of tariff reduction," he says. In the case of the G33, which includes a vase number of developing countries - 94 to 98% of the market for developing countries would "be blocked to us." he adds.

Johanns notes that "developing country" in that G33 proposal would include China, Brazil and India. "You can see why I'm worried," he says.

This negotiation, which has been going on for more than four years, continues, but Johanns admits that market access issues remain very important and that the loopholes defined would "smother market access." He says, that's where the concern is and admits it is a "worrisome" development.

Johanns and U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab have been invited back to talks with the G6 yet tonight, but he was unsure if there was any movement on the market access issue.

Johanns says the U.S. offer to cut amber box payments 60% is a bold move from the United States but is contingent on market access and for now, he's not sure if negotiators are making progress. "We are committed to the negotiation process, and continue to be," he says.

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