- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Trade negotiators demonstrated last week that progress in global trade talks will be slowed by one very contentious issue: agricultural reform. In the past few days, talks were supposed to focus on general negotiating principles for dismantling agricultural tariffs and subsidies. But the negotiations on how to frame future negotiations made little headway.
The chief of staff for the World Trade Organization (WTO), Stuart Harbinson, was at the center of the agricultural controversy. The negotiating framework he drew up was universally shot down by parties arguing for and against reform. Mr. Harbinson plans to draw up new guiding principles by mid-month, and he entreated officials to come up with "constructive ideas" on how to bridge differences.
The difficulties emerging in this early stage in talks aren't surprising. After all, members of the European Union haven't reached consensus on what their own agricultural policy should be. The European Union (EU), Japan and South Korea have voiced considerable concern over the impact a reduction in tariffs and subsidies would have on their farmers and landscape preservation. "We are concerned that those who are ambitious in agriculture are ready to hold the whole round hostage," said Switzerland's chief trade negotiator Luzius Wasescha.
Surely, it is difficult to imagine Switzerland without its verdant hills and tidy farm plots. European nations take considerable pride in preserving traditional ways of life. But Europe can do more to reach common ground with the United States and emerging countries without threatening an eradication of the European farmer. At the start of the trade round in November 2001, the developed world pledged to expand opportunities for poor countries to sell the goods they competitively produce, such as agricultural produce, in rich markets. Europe must keep that promise.
At the very least, EU nations could demonstrate a good-faith effort by adopting the agricultural reforms proposed by their own farm commissioner, Franz Fischler. Mr. Fischler hasn't asked Europe to reduce overall subsidies, only that subsidies be tied to environmental and animal-welfare standards rather than supply. If Europe were to adopt Mr. Fischler's proposal, the global supply of farm products would be expected to drop, and poor nations would have a greater ability to export their products. Mr. Fischler hopes to get at least some of his proposals approved by June, but a number of European countries are resisting reform.
The United States could accompany any progress in Europe with a reduction of U.S. farm subsidies. Although the Bush administration has outlined an ambitious plan for global agricultural reform, last year it approved a 10-year, $100-billion-plus farm bill.
The Doha round of trade talks is scheduled to conclude in 2004. Reaching that goal would be a unifying principle for the world at a time of considerable discord. Absent a shift in the positions of Europe, Japan and other countries, this trade round could be headed towards failure.

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