[DEBATE] : TWN Info: US launches new WTO blame game
Riaz K. Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Mon Sep 17 08:24:21 BST 2007
TWN Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Sept07/05)
17 September 2007
Third World Network
US start new WTO blame game
Published in SUNS #6321 dated 12 September 2007
The start of a new WTO "blame game" was made when the US Trade
Representative Susan Schwab last week told the media that a small group
of developing countries are threatening to block progress in the Doha
negotiations, while in contrast, the US is eager to reach a deal.
In Washington, Schwab on 10 September said that "There have been quite
frankly some obstructionist members of the WTO who don't want the talks
to succeed and who don't want to negotiate on the basis of these texts."
Earlier, on 6 September Schwab, during the APEC summit, had accused
South Africa, Argentina, India and Brazil of jeopardising the Doha Round.
The accusatory and aggressive tone of Schwab's message has caused
negative response from developing countries' diplomats at the WTO, who
say that this does not help to build confidence and goodwill required in
Below is a report that was published in the South-North Development
Monitor -- SUNS #6321 dated 12 September 2007.
It is reproduced here with the permission of the SUNS. Any reproduction
or re-circulation requires the prior permission of the SUNS
(sunstwn at bluewin.ch <mailto:sunstwn at bluewin.ch>).
With best wishes
US starts new WTO blame game
Published in SUNS #6321 dated 12 September 2007
By Martin Khor, Geneva 11 Sept 2007
An early start to the WTO "blame game" has been launched by the US Trade
Representative Susan Schwab who in the past few days has twice announced
to the media that a small group of developing countries are threatening
to block progress in the Doha negotiations, while in contrast, the US is
eager to reach a deal.
In Washington, back from the APEC Summit in Sydney, Schwab on 10
September said that "There have been quite frankly some obstructionist
members of the WTO who don't want the talks to succeed and who don't
want to negotiate on the basis of these texts."
She said that chances for a WTO deal could slip away if countries refuse
to negotiate on the basis of two draft texts issued in July on
agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA), according to a
It was the second time that Schwab was blaming developing countries. The
Financial Times on 7 September reported that Schwab, during the APEC
summit, had accused South Africa, Argentina, India and Brazil of
jeopardising the Doha Round by thwarting efforts to reach a deal.
"It will be very clear who the spoilers are," she said.
The accusatory and aggressive tone of Schwab's message was emphasised by
the headlines of the articles reporting her comments. "US accuses Doha
dissidents," was the heading in the Financial Times, while the Reuters
report had the heading "Obstructionists could block WTO deal".
In Geneva, the Schwab remarks have made an impact. Several diplomats
from developing countries took a negative view. Some said that they did
not take the comments seriously, as they seemed to be in answer to
questions by journalists.
Others, however, said that such undiplomatic and pointed comments would
have a negative effect on the atmosphere of the negotiations.
"We are still trying to build momentum for the talks which have started
slowly, and these kinds of strong remarks blaming specific countries
certainly do not help build the confidence and goodwill that is
required," said the Ambassador of one developing country.
Many diplomats had a cynical interpretation of Schwab's remarks.
According to this view, the US is unable to make any movement in
agriculture, particularly on domestic subsidies, because of the
uncertainties relating to its 2007 Farm Bill, and because President
George W Bush's fast track authority for making trade deals has expired
with almost no hope for renewal.
Because of this, the US is most likely to be seen as the biggest
stumbling block to progress in the efforts to conclude modalities in
agriculture and NAMA negotiations in September or early October.
In anticipation of this, so the argument goes, the US Trade
Representative has decided on a strategy of starting the blame game very
early on so as to get the media to get and transmit the message that
some developing countries are out to block progress in the talks, and to
keep up with this aggressive stance and in the process hope that the US
will escape the blame, or at least dilute the blame that would otherwise
be directed at it.
Schwab's remarks are also seen as being timed to have an impact on the
talks and how they are scheduled at the WTO in Geneva.
The agriculture negotiations in Room E (the new Green Room process
involving about 35 delegations) are presently discussing market access,
and the next agenda item (which will start at the end of this week or
early next week) is expected to be domestic support.
On this item, everyone will be waiting to see if the US makes a move to
improve its official offer of a cap on overall trade-distorting support
of $22.7 billion, and if so, whether the new figure is acceptable.
If it is unable to make a credible offer, the US looks set to put the
onus on others to make concessions which it considers to be
satisfactory, and make this the condition for its own future improved
Schwab's comments in recent days on developing countries being out to
wreck the Round, and especially her naming of specific countries, seems
to confirm what was observed in the failed G4 Ministerial talks in
Potsdam at the end of June - that the US and the European Union had
reached some kind of understanding to be lenient on each other's
weaknesses (and not to make significant demands on each other) while
combining to pressurize the developing countries to make onerous
concessions, particularly in NAMA.
The US seems to have decided on the tactic of putting the blame on some
developing countries (which the USTR labelled as "advanced developing
countries"), instead of on the EU, and to have chosen to attack them on
their alleged non-cooperation in NAMA, in an attempt to take the
spotlight away from agriculture (in which it finds a problem in making a
The US would have chosen NAMA to be the battleground for public opinion
and for the blame game because the draft modalities paper of the NAMA
negotiations Chair, Canadian Ambassador Don Stephenson, largely reflects
the position of the developed countries, while ignoring the positions
and perspectives of the developing countries.
A majority of developing countries formed a united front to protest
against the Stephenson paper during meetings on NAMA and of the Trade
Negotiations Committee at the end of July, before the WTO's summer break.
A joint statement expressing the strong criticisms of the developing
country groupings (including the NAMA 11, the ACP and Africa and LDC
Groups) and their feelings of how unfair and imbalanced was the NAMA
modalities paper, made a deep impression at the end-July meetings.
At least three countries stated clearly that they could not accept the
Stephenson draft as the basis or even as a basis for negotiations, while
several other developing countries made statements at the WTO or in
their capitals that verged on rejecting the draft as the basis for
At last week's APEC Summit, the US played a leading role in getting the
leaders to issue a statement on the WTO negotiations which pledged their
"political will, flexibility and ambition to ensure the Doha Round
negotiations enter their final phase this year."
The most important operational line was that the negotiations should
resume "on the basis of the draft texts tabled by the chairs of the
negotiating groups on agriculture and non-agricultural market access."
Back in Washington, Schwab was quick to point to this part of the APEC
statement, saying that "it was a very, very important message and we'll
see whether it resonates." She then accused some countries of being
"obstructionist" and who do not want to negotiate on the basis of these
The US is thus obviously preparing the ground to put pressure on
developing countries to accept the Stephenson draft as the basis for the
NAMA negotiations, and to point fingers at those countries that either
reject it or that want significant changes to it.
Diplomats at the WTO were quick to point out that the APEC leaders'
statement did not commit non-APEC members to accept the NAMA Chair's
draft, and that many important players in the NAMA-11 such as India,
Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Venezuela are not APEC members, and
neither are most of the countries in the ACP, African and LDC groups.
The US will however find it difficult to escape the spotlight as most
observers and many in the media, together with most WTO delegations, are
of the view that any progress at the September talks is conditional on
whether the US makes a forward move in agriculture. Indeed, this has
been the situation at least since June 2006.
Last week, the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, said that all
countries had to make compromises, but stressed the need for the US to
offer deeper cuts in agricultural subsidies. "We are in a stalemate and
I believe the US holds the key to unlocking it," he said in an interview
on the BBC.
And on 10 September, the Press Trust of India reported from New Delhi
that the Indian Commerce Minister Mr. Kamal Nath said that the US will
have to come out with new proposals on cuts in farm subsidies to break
the deadlock at the multilateral trade talks.
At the WTO, many developing countries have been preparing themselves for
the battle ahead on NAMA, even as the agriculture negotiations proceed.
A meeting was held on Tuesday morning of the NAMA 11 together with
coordinators of the ACP, African, LDC and SVE (small and vulnerable
Meanwhile, it is still not clear when Stephenson will launch the
negotiations on NAMA. In July, he had indicated that the first
open-ended NAMA meeting would be held around 17 September, but until
Tuesday afternoon, there has been no notification sent out on the meeting.
The Chair of the NAMA negotiations has however, in the past two days,
started consultations with a few individual countries and coordinators
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