Monday, December 19, 2005

Hong Kong round meets with partial success

The U.S. may not have budged on Kyoto, but it did everything it could to rescue Hong Kong. Until Saturday evening, European negotiators had insisted that they would not accept any deadline for an end to agricultural subsidies because they wanted a broader definition of export subsidies that would include food aid to poor countries. But bowing to U.S. pressure Saturday, the European Union's agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, introduced a proposal calling for a worldwide ban on agriculture export subsidies by 2013.

The New York Times picks up the holes in this partial success (much-vaunted like the similar half-victory in Montreal last week):

But the Hong Kong Declaration does not settle some of the biggest trade issues facing the W.T.O.'s members. Some of these issues were barely discussed here because the sides are so far apart, including lower tariffs on agricultural and manufactured goods and limits on domestic farm subsidies.

As with many trade agreements at the ministerial level, the declaration also papers over differences that could yet prove troublesome later. An agreement reluctantly accepted by the European Union to end agricultural export subsidies by 2013, for instance, calls for a "substantial" part of the subsidies to be eliminated well before then, but does not specify what that means.

Similarly, the ban on fishing subsidies does not define overfishing. And the agreement on cotton leaves for later the tricky question of how quickly the United States should lower its subsidies, which West African nations blame for depressing the prices that their farmers receive for their crops.

Full Story here.

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