The World Trade Organization is shooting for mid-December to finally reach agreement on the latest series of global ag trade reforms. That is when the latest ministerial in the Doha round of negotiations takes place in Hong Kong. And most all participating nations agree that Hong Kong is the "now or never" point if any substantial ag trade reform is to take place. That was emphasized last week at the United Nations, when President Bush challenged the European Union and other W.T.O. member nations to follow the U.S.'s announced lead that it will soon remove all tariffs, subsidies and trade barriers. Agreeing with the President on his call is U.S.D.A. Secretary Mike Johanns.
JOHANNS: You look at the fact that twenty seven per cent of our receipts in agriculture come from trade, we need a President who really leads in this area, and he is. But his message is very important. He's saying, "Look, it is time for all the developed countries to step up". That means we have to have market access for our commodities. There are parts of the world where it is very, very difficult for us because of tariffs or other barriers to sell our ag products.
The President's speech signified the growing push by W.T.O. members, especially the developed nations, to get key issues resolved. Following the speech European Union trade officials met with U.S. counterparts in Washington D.C. The E.U. has been staunch in its defense of its tariffs and subsidies against U.S. goods. So much so that U.S. leaders say for any substantial progress to be made in the Doha round, the E.U. must grant greater market access to American farm products and reduce Europe's current five-billion dollar ag trade surplus with the U.S. But E.U. Agricultural Commissioner Frances Fischer-Boel says Europe is ready to make the effort to improve U.S. market access.
FISCHER-BOEL: If we can find the common ground of this, I can promise you that the European Union will be opening up markets in all areas.
During this week, various W.T.O. member nations have met among themselves in hope of advancing the Doha round as much as possible prior to the Hong Kong ministerial. Fischer-Boel on her departure from Washington D.C. says she is encouraged by the progress among member nations, despite the looming deadline.
FISCHER-BOEL: I'm much more optimistic than I was the day that I arrived here. So I think this paves the way, because if we want Hong Kong to be a success we have to move fast.