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WTO text on SM products “unacceptable”: Ritz

A revised draft text aimed at jump-starting the World Trade Organization’s repeatedly-stalled Doha round of agricultural trade talks still contains points of “very serious concerns” for Canada and its supply-managed industries.

The draft modalities text, released Saturday by the WTO ag talks’ chairman, New Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer, marks the fourth revision of negotiating documents first submitted to WTO members in July 2007.

Gerry Ritz, Canada’s agriculture minister, on Sunday praised “many positive elements” of Falconer’s draft text, such as “significant” cuts to trade-distorting supports and new opportunities for market access for Canadian farmers and exporters.

“However, we remain deeply concerned about the implications for supply management of some of the provisions,” Ritz said in a release Sunday.

“While there has been an acknowledgment that Canada has insisted on having six per cent of tariff lines as sensitive, the approach to this and other elements of the text remain unacceptable and more work remains to be done.”

Ritz said Canada’s negotiators “remain opposed to these provisions” that would “negatively affect” Canada’s supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry sectors.

However, Ritz also said that an agreement between WTO members on modalities “would not be a final conclusion, but one more step in the process to moving the Doha round toward a successful conclusion.”

Nevertheless, Falconer’s text “remains detrimental to supply management in Canada,” said Jacques Laforge, president of Dairy Farmers of Canada, in a joint release Monday by several supply-managed commodity groups.

“While they technically acknowledge, for the first time, issues for supply management, the provisions for ‘sensitive products’ continue to be devastating to the Canadian dairy, poultry and egg sectors. They mean about $1 billion in losses for dairy farmers alone,” Laforge said.

“Could become platform”

According to a release Saturday from the WTO, the latest draft modalities texts on both agricultural and non-agricultural products “are the outcome of the latest discussions in negotiation groups and would be a focus of crucial talks if a representative group of ministers return to Geneva later in December.”

The draft modalities text, the WTO said, is Falconer’s assessment of what “might be agreed” in terms of formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting ag subsidies, and in terms of related provisions. “After these ‘modalities’ have been agreed, members will apply the formulas to their tariffs and agricultural subsidies.”

The WTO stressed that the text is not Falconer’s opinion of what would be “good” for world ag trade, “but what might be accepted by all sides in the negotiations.”

“It would have been selling short the progress made to simply have nothing new on the table on these matters,” Falconer wrote. “So what has been done in such cases is to provide certain working hypotheses which, if the political will to conclude is genuinely there, could become a platform to get us to closure.”

In a separate release Saturday, WTO director-general Pascal Lamy said the draft ag and non-ag texts “also clearly define those areas where members disagree.” Although these “areas of discord” are few, they involve “politically sensitive” issues and governments should “show flexibility and diligence in bridging these gaps as soon as possible,” he said.

Lamy also stressed that WTO members “still have a long way to go before the round is concluded and all members are asked to cast their ballot on the final package. However, the modalities step would send a signal that all WTO members stand united to face the challenges of the current economic crisis. It will confirm that they reject unilateral beggar-thy-neighbour solutions.

“This is not the time for unrealistic demands,” Lamy said. “Nor is it the time for inflexible stances. This is the time for collective moves towards global solutions.”

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