WTO text shows “wide gaps” in talks: Ritz

A new draft modalities text on agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) lays bare “wide gaps” separating countries’ positions at the talks, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Thursday.

The draft text released Thursday by Crawford Falconer, chair of the WTO ag talks, is an outline of his assessment of what WTO member countries might agree to in formulas for cutting tariffs and trade-distorting agricultural subsidies.

The text was released in advance of more ministerial-level negotiations the week of July 21 in Geneva, Switzerland.

“However, as Ambassador Falconer’s latest text makes clear, there is still much work to be done to resolve outstanding issues, “Ritz said in a release Thursday. “Each country will have to ratify any agreement and that will be complex as key players go through elections.

“The reality is that an agreement in Geneva would be only one step in a long process of ratification, detailed negotiation, and gradual implementation… An agreement on modalities would not be a final conclusion, but one more step in the process.”

Ritz said Canada will “continue to push all countries to completely eliminate export subsidies and strengthen disciplines for domestic supports” but at the same time, will “firmly oppose proposals for any over-quota tariff cuts or tariff quota expansion for sensitive products.”

“Sensitive products” in Canada’s case refers to its supply-managed dairy, poultry and egg sectors. Despite recent pressure from groups such as the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to bend slightly on supply managed commodities, Ritz reiterated Thursday that the Tory government “is committed to supporting supply management both at home and abroad.”

“Decisive moment”

In a separate release Thursday, WTO director general Pascal Lamy said the revised draft texts on ag and non-ag modalities “set the stage for a decisive moment in the Doha round” of WTO talks.

Ministers coming to Geneva “need negotiating documents which are clear and precise as they consider the complex issues of agriculture and industrial goods trade,” Lamy said. “These texts go a very long way in that direction. These negotiations have been long and tough but the prize awaiting us should we reach agreement is worth the effort.

“A deal to open trade in agriculture and goods means more growth, better prospects for development and a more stable and predictable trading system. We must not let this opportunity slip through our fingers.”

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, an exporters’ industry group, said Thursday that it’s “pleased to see that the draft released today continues to call for ambitious reductions of barriers to agriculture trade, including so-called sensitive products,” according to president Darcy Davis.

“In the rest of the
world, sensitive products are largely meat and grains, which are the most
important agricultural goods produced in Canada and exported. Any lowering of
ambition on sensitive products would be a major loss for Canada’s agriculture
and agri-food sector,” Davis said.

CAFTA, he said, “is continuing to urge Canadian political leaders
to support lowering of tariffs and expansion of quotas on sensitive products
to ensure commercially meaningful market access gains for all Canadian
agri-food products. We will be carrying that message to the WTO meetings in
Geneva next week.”

Davis repeated that an analysis by the George Morris
Centre shows new WTO rules as now being negotiated would add an
additional $3 billion per year in Canadian agricultural exports.

New ambassador

Ottawa also announced Thursday that it will replace its ambassador and permanent representative to the WTO. Don Stephenson, who is currently also the WTO’s chair on non-agricultural market access (NAMA) negotiations, will be replaced by John Gero.

Gero, a civil servant since 1975 and currently assistant deputy minister for trade policy and negotiations, has also previously taken part as a senior Canadian representative in multilateral trade talks.

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