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CWB issue lingers as Doha talks stall

While talks on World Trade Organization modalities appear to be done for the year, a draft text outlining what member nations could potentially agree on remains a concern for the Canadian Wheat Board.

CWB chairman Larry Hill, in a recent op-ed piece submitted to several daily newspapers, warned that if a draft modalities text proposed Dec. 6 by the chairman of the WTO agriculture talks were accepted by trade ministers, it would mean elimination of the CWB’s monopoly on exports of Prairie wheat and barley by 2013.

The CWB, on its website, has characterized the draft text from ag talks chairman Crawford Falconer as the latest form of “intense trade pressure from the United States” due to competition from Canadian wheat.

“If the draft is accepted, the CWB will lose its monopoly on the sale of western Canadian wheat, durum and barley — despite the fact that 14 trade challenges and investigations launched by Americans over the past two decades have failed to show that the CWB’s single-desk marketing structure distorts trade,” the CWB wrote. “This includes a ruling by the WTO itself.”

“We cannot let the U.S. dictate what marketing structures are used by western Canadian farmers,” Hill wrote. “It is not up to the Americans.”

Hill urged federal representatives to the WTO to “publicly state the government’s position on this issue of key importance to Canada’s wheat and barley farmers and to forcefully assert it on the international stage.”

The point may be temporarily moot, however, as WTO director-general Pascal Lamy announced Friday that he would not call WTO member nations’ trade ministers into talks to finalize modalities by the end of the year, barring a breakthrough in the following two days.

“From a technical point of view, the issues are not intractable. In fact, from a purely technical perspective, you are not that far from an agreement on those issues,” Lamy said in a meeting with heads of trade delegations Friday.

“The bad news is that individual positions — and the position overall — have not changed significantly.”

The chances of success if ministers were to meet now are no greater than when Lamy began consulting on the matter last week, he said.

“In my view, therefore, calling ministers to try to finalize modalities by the end of the year would be running an unacceptably high risk of failure which could damage not only the (Doha round of WTO talks) but also the WTO system as a whole.”

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