GENEVA, SWITZERLAND -- The World Trade Organization (WTO) has been out of the news for a while. Bickering between developing and developed countries over who should cut tariffs and farm subsidies more, and divisions over compliance and enforcement of existing WTO trade rules have all but stopped negotiating progress among the 164 members.
"Freer trade, reducing trade distorting domestic subsidies, enforcing trade rules, and liberalizing global trade are among the core objectives of the WTO, so it's not surprising that lack of consensus among the members has frozen progress towards a successor trade deal to the Uruguay Round Agreements, which are over 20 years old," said Bob Cummings, USA Rice COO.
Cummings recently returned from meetings at WTO headquarters with delegations from the United States and other countries. He joined representatives from the U.S. Grains Council, U.S. Wheat Associates, and DTB Associates.
WTO members will meet in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of this year for the organization's 11th Ministerial Conference. Each of the two previous Ministerials failed to produce a comprehensive trade agreement to match the ambition of the Uruguay Round, and the pressure is on to show the relevance of the organization.
"It can be tempting to write-off the WTO, but that leaves the organization in the hands of those who will write global trade rules that are not in our interest. We showed up in Geneva and delivered a strong message that USA Rice will except nothing short of new agricultural market access and disciplines on trade distorting domestic farm supports in major competitor exporting countries which are currently not living up to their obligations. There is no support for allowing countries to use public stockholding schemes as a way to skirt subsidy limits," said Cummings.
Recent statements by administration officials have called into question the utility and relevance of the WTO, particularly in the area of dispute settlement.
"A functioning WTO is critical to the economic health of export dependent sectors like agriculture. The Uruguay Round's Agriculture Agreement opened up new export markets for U.S. rice in Japan and Korea, and was the basis of additional market opening in Taiwan and China when they joined," continued Cummings. "Although time consuming, the WTO's dispute settlement process has a proven track record. The United States prevailed in cases against Mexico and Turkey that, for example, preserved access for U.S. rice. An important case against China's excessive grain subsidies, led by the United States, will be heard early next year and a positive outcome should be a critical enforcement lever against several advanced developing countries engaged in global farm trade that provide producer subsidies well in excess of WTO rules."
"We have two big challenges going forward - preventing undue influence by some advanced developing countries that want to turn back the clock on global trade liberalization that will hurt U.S. rice, and at the same time educating our government that the WTO process has value and is deserving of U.S. leadership," concluded Cummings.