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Let's Talk Trans-Pacific Trade

Let's Talk Trans-Pacific Trade

Trade leaders work to complete ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership deal by end of year.

The World Trade Organization Bali ministerial meeting is scheduled for two months from now and calls for agreements on trade facilitation, agriculture and development.

WTO director-general Roberto Azevedo, in his inaugural speech to the WTO General Council on Sept. 9, said the multilateral trading system remains the best defense against protectionism and the strongest force for growth, recovery and development.

He believes the world has defined WTO by what it has been doing on the negotiating front – that is to say, not much.

Perception: 'paralysis'

RECEIVING: U.S. farmers watch as American soybeans unload at a Chinese port.

"People only see us as good as our progress on (the Doha Round). That is the reality," he says. "And the perception in the world is that we have forgotten how to negotiate. The perception is paralysis. Our failure to address this paralysis casts a shadow that goes well beyond the negotiating arm, and it covers every other part of our work.

"It is essential that we breathe new life into negotiations. We must send a clear and unequivocal message to the world that the WTO can deliver multilateral trade deals."

Azevedo says discussions have been focused, precise and businesslike where members were negotiating and interacting in a constructive manner.

"Delegations are in a solution-finding mode, and I am encouraged by the new tenor to the discussion. If we keep this mood and attitude in the upcoming weeks, I believe Bali will be within reach," he says.

On the issue of exports, WTO members agree that the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies for agricultural products and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect is a key objective — and, for some members, one of the priorities of the Doha Round.

A number of countries worry that fellow members' stockholding of food and other agricultural products could depress prices and affect their exports, the WTO Agriculture Committee heard on Sept. 26. The concerns were particularly about stockholding of rice in Thailand and India, wheat in India, soybeans and other products in Indonesia and cotton in China.

Price supports

Farm groups sent a letter recently to Ambassador Michael Froman of the Office of U.S. Trade Representative and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to express concern regarding the food security proposal and how advanced developing countries have used it as a way to support prices.

"Support prices in several of those countries are now significantly above U.S. target prices, and studies suggest that they are exceeding by a wide margin the limits on domestic support to which they agreed in the Uruguay Round negotiations," wrote the groups. "We see the G-33 proposal as an acknowledgement by those countries of their vulnerability to challenge under current rules. The G-33 proposal would significantly weaken subsidy disciplines by exempting from aggregate measure of support (AMS) calculations price support regimes that are tied to domestic food aid programs."

TPP on track

Leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade talks said significant progress has been made and the 12 countries are "on track" to complete the negotiations by the end of this year.

According to a joint statement from countries' leaders released by the White House, negotiators have agreed to proceed to "resolve all outstanding issues with the objective of completing this year a comprehensive and balanced, regional agreement that achieves the goals we established in Honolulu in 2011, ensures the benefits of the agreement are fully shared, and takes into account the diversity of our levels of development."

The end of the year continues to be the goal, but most of the sensitive areas have not been finalized. U.S. Trade Rep Froman, quoted in The Hill, said there is "much focus right now and momentum behind us."

TPP brings together advanced and emerging economies that make up a third of global trade and 40% of global gross domestic product. The 12 participating countries include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam.

U.S. agricultural groups continue to call for an "ambitious, 21st century" trade agreement which would eliminate tariffs and remove trade barriers.

As the fourth-largest U.S. agricultural export market, with nearly $14 billion in purchases in 2012, Japan's inclusion in the talks is one of the most lucrative for American farmers and ranchers.

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