WTO proposals target single desk by 2013: CWB

World Trade Organization talks resuming this week in Switzerland include a proposal to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk by 2013, the CWB warns.

CWB chairman Larry Hill said in a release Thursday that the most recent draft modalities text issued to WTO member countries “targets the CWB’s single-desk sales for elimination by 2013.”

That’s on top of the elimination of federal government guarantees on initial payments and CWB borrowing — concessions Canada has already made, the CWB said.

Draft modalities texts, issued regularly during WTO ag talks, are an outline of the chairman’s assessment of what WTO member countries might agree to in formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting agricultural subsidies.

“These concessions, scheduled to take effect if an eventual WTO deal is reached and ratified, will decrease western Canadian farmers’s incomes by increasing their borrowing and risk management costs,” said Hill, who farms at Swift Current, Sask. “To target single-desk sales on top of this is simply wrong.”

Furthermore, Hill said the current modalities, drafted in December by former WTO ag negotiations chairman Crawford Falconer, will not result in any “meaningful improvements” in market access for western Canadian wheat and barley producers.

Nor will they mean any significant reductions in current levels of spending by Canada’s key competitors on domestic support programs, he said.

Kiwis exempt

The CWB said Falconer’s text still makes special allowances for the U.S. to maintain its current subsidy system, and continues to allow for the “misuse” of export credit and food aid through exceptions that favour the U.S.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that (Prairie) wheat and barley farmers will give up far more than they gain if the current wording of the trade deal is ratified,” Hill said.

“Farmers want meaningful reductions in tariffs on our grain exports and an end to the trade-distorting practices in the U.S. and Europe. None of that will be achieved by putting the CWB on the table in the current draft deal.”

The CWB also said the December 2008 modalities, which “specifically target” its single marketing desk for Prairie wheat and barley, also provide an exemption for New Zealand’s kiwi fruit exporter, Zespri.

Zespri, the CWB said, is the only other “notified” agricultural exporting state trading enterprise (STE) in the developed world.

And STEs such as the CWB shouldn’t be on the negotiating table in the first place, the CWB said Thursday. “Since 1990, 14 international trade challenges have found that the CWB does not distort trade. Western Canadian farmers should determine their system of marketing wheat and barley — not foreign competitors.”

According to last Friday’s edition of Geneva Watch, a WTO newsletter produced by Canada’s supply-managed commodity boards, a recent ministerial meeting in Delhi has led trade ministers to instruct officials to “draw up a process of engagement for the next two to three months and to work with the chair of the negotiating groups to prepare an overall agenda of action.”

WTO director general Pascal Lamy called for two “Green Room” meetings for Sept. 15 and Sept. 20, the newsletter said.

The aim, according to the newsletter, is for negotiators to work with the chairman of each negotiating group to develop their roadmaps and identify the key outstanding issues on which progress is needed in order to advance the negotiations on both agriculture and non-agricultural market access.

“According to sources familiar with the process, the roadmaps are required to outline the outstanding issues that need priority and the timeframes to close them,” Geneva Watch reported.

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