(Aug. 6, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) Doha may be done — at least for this year.

The Doha Round negotiations of the World Trade Organization collapsed in late July after the U.S. refused to accept a demand by China and India that any new agreement should allow them to raise tariffs and put in place special safeguards on agricultural goods. The Doha round of talks began in November 2001 with a focus on development and opening markets for agriculture. At that time, negotiators aimed to conclude the deal by 2005.

Now, nearly seven years after launch, trade observers said the Doha round of global trade talks is probably on hold for the rest of the year.

Elections in the U.S. and India this fall put the likelihood of progress the rest of this year doubtful, said Anita Brown, trade analyst and lobbyist with Schramm, Williams & Associates, Washington, and D.C.

Demands by China and India

U.S. lobbyists were pleased that U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab did not bow to demands from China and India in relation to mechanisms that would allow them to raise tariffs above levels previously negotiated in the Uruguay Round of global trade talks.

“China apparently wanted to be able to raise the tariffs on sugar and corn and cotton, and they wanted to raise them above the Uruguay Round level if they if they needed to,” she said. “To Schwab’s credit, she said no.”

China’s position on safeguards for agriculture is rooted in concern about food security, observers believe.

Countries’ decisions ‘regretable’

Lawmakers and agricultural groups were supportive of the U.S. position, though trade liberalization promises greater exports. U.S. horticultural exports would benefit from lower global tariffs because the U.S. tariffs on most agricultural imports are nearly zero now.

“U.S. Trade Representative Schwab made a significant offer to reduce trade distorting agriculture payments and other countries should have been more reasonable,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Bob Stallman, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation, said it was “regrettable” that China and India were not prepared to negotiate improvements in agricultural trade.

Continued work encouraged

In remarks July 30, Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, admitted the talks could not resolve disagreements concerning agriculture trade and nonagricultural market access issues. However, he urged WTO members and negotiators to continue work on an agreement.

“I think we all now need to engage in serious reflection on the next steps in our collective endeavor which is the Doha Development Agenda,” he said, referring to thousands of hours of negotiation and serious political investment by WTO members.

“Our immediate priority is to reaffirm our commitment to the multilateral trading system, which comes out of this week dented,” he said.

In a message on the WTO Web site, he pushed members to look ahead and “to how we can do better next time, and I am convinced there will be a next time.”