WTO reaches deal

Last-minute agreement Unexpected deal includes changes for agriculture

BALI, Indonesia — With a hard-won breakthrough in negotiations last week during a World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, trade officials are now planning an aggressive push to resolve other unfinished trade business.

WTO officials have been told to develop a “work plan” during the next year that will outline how to tackle the myriad issues that remain unresolved in the 12-year old Doha Development Round.

An unexpected last-minute deal at dawn Dec. 7 after an all-night bargaining session produced the first momentum, which included potentially important gains for agriculture.

The “Bali package” includes a number of commitments:

  • Reform how tariff rate quota (TRQ) is administered to increase trade
  • Reduce non-tariff barriers embedded in import rules
  • Eliminate export subsidies
  • Create new permanent rules governing publicly controlled food stockpiles to deal with food security in developing countries.

The Canadian government and agricultural groups represented in Bali lauded the deal as a breakthrough that will salvage what had been a declining WTO reputation and create momentum for continued negotiations.

The agreement “will re-establish the WTO as an organization that advances trade liberalization around the world,” trade minister Ed Fast said in a statement issued while he was in Singapore for a weekend meeting of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.

He had been involved in the earlier Bali negotiations.

“The Bali ministerial meeting has produced a promising package that includes market access in agriculture, gains for least-developed countries and an important trade facilitation agreement that will improve the movement of goods across international borders.”

Agriculture minister Gerry Ritz left the Bali talks before the deal was struck but he issued a statement from Ottawa praising the outcome.

“This agreement builds on our government’s continued advocacy for a fair and more efficient system of international trade based on predictable rules and sound science,” he said.

“This agreement will help Canadian farmers and agricultural exporters maximize opportunities in international markets, where we have achieved unprecedented access this year.”

Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett said the deal is good for agriculture, and the test will be where it leads next.

“I am pleased to see that political will was shown to arrive at an agreement,” he said after the announcement.

“I will be interested in seeing how WTO intends to address a broader package of issues that were not part of the Bali package.”

The deal was nearly lost in the frenzied final night of negotiation.

Success appeared imminent late Dec. 6 after a week of drafting a text aimed at satisfying objections from India about rules for food stockpiling in the cause of food security.

Then Cuba and three Latin American allies vowed to scuttle it over lingering resentments about the impact of the decades-long U.S. economic embargo against the Caribbean island nation.

The deal appeared to be dead as of 5 a.m. Dec. 7, but wording had been found by 9 a.m. to satisfy Cuba and weary negotiators made the announcement at 10 a.m.

The Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance said the main long-term benefit for Canadian agriculture could be a commitment to improve “trade facilitation” by reducing and policing border import bureaucracy and rules that are non-tariff barriers.

“Greater transparency and common disciplines in key areas such as customs rules and test procedures and new obligations around the treatment of perishable goods will help facilitate trade and reduce the costs incurred by Canadian exporters.”

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