The WTO secretariat issued a revised draft ministerial declaration that was supposed to be a big deal but made so little progress in the talks it’s hardly worth getting into. Of course, none of the NGOs were satisfied. The funniest moment of the day for me was overhearing one disaffected NGO member ask her colleague, “What’s another word for ‘reject’? We’ve already used that too many times.”
The only thing about the draft that could be called progress is that WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, a former EU trade commissioner, took the rest of the world’s side against the EU and proposed 2010 as a date for the elimination of all export subsidies for farm goods. This particular point has taken on such a disproportionate significance and the ambitions for Hong Kong have been so scaled back that if the WTO can get on agreement on just this issue, the conference will be considered a modest success.
While the EU continued to block agreement on export subsidies for all farm goods, the draft text did announce an agreement on the elimination of export subsidies for cotton specifically and set 2006 as a deadline. This was no problem for the U.S., which already agreed to that after its cotton dispute with Brazil, which it lost. Nor is it a problem for the EU, which doesn’t produce much cotton. It is a bold-sounding agreement that does little to reduce the trade-distortions in cotton that are actually caused by massive U.S. domestic support. The West African nations, which are the most adversely affected by U.S. cotton subsidies, said that while they weren’t pleased with the overall proposal, the cotton agreement represented a small bit of progress.
With less than 24 hours left in the conference, a small bit of progress is all anyone can hope to expect. But if the EU refuses to agree to a date on export subsidies, even that prospect will slip away.