US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has warned his counterparts in other major farm exporting nations that progress to liberalize world agricultural trade must be made this year or it could be delayed until 2012.
Substantial progress must be made in coming weeks if there is to be a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of world trade talks at a scheduled World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December, he said.
Johanns was speaking to reporters after a round of ministerial meetings Aug. 19-21 with his counterparts in the country grouping known as Quint.
The other ministers are Australian Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran, European Union Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, Japanese Agriculture Minister Mineichi Iwanaga and Canada’s Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell.
“All of us recognize that substantial progress is essential in the coming weeks…to have a chance of success in the December Hong Kong ministerial meeting,” Johanns said at a joint media conference after the meetings.
An audio feed of part of the media conference was available Monday from the Web site of Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Australian ministers and farm leaders have become dismayed in recent weeks at the apparent lack of progress in trade talks.
WTO members who held talks in Geneva late July, failed to meet their goal of agreeing on first drafts of a new agreement to liberalize agricultural trade and other key issues by the end of July, Australia’s Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.
In mid-August, Peter Corish, president of the National Farmers’ Federation - an Australian lobby group - called on the US to help get the talks back on track.
“It’s time for the US to show some leadership and to make a real commitment in regard to getting rid of their domestic subsidies,” Corish said.
Johanns said US President George W. Bush has set an ambitious agenda for farm trade reform and for leveling the playing field for trade.
In particular, he cited US plans to eliminate export subsidies, reduce and harmonize trade-distorting domestic support and substantially reduce tariff disparities.
Johanns said the US starts work in earnest on a new Farm Bill next year, which when implemented in 2007 would last through 2012.
“If we aren’t successful in this (Doha) Round, the temptation will be to just simply repackage the same, which means that the opportunity for real reform may be lost until 2012 when the next Farm Bill expires,” he said.
“It’s very, very important that we rededicate ourselves to a very successful Doha Round,” he said.
The EU’s Fischer Boel said no one can afford a failure at the Hong Kong WTO ministerial meeting, but this requires movement in domestic support and export subsidies.
“I am quite sure that we will be able to find a timetable for the phasing out of all types of export subsidies,” she said.
Australia’s McGauran said strong leadership from Quint countries will be critical to the success of the Doha Round negotiations.
“The importance of this meeting to Australian farmers can’t be overstated,” he said in a statement.
About 65% of Australian farm output, notably wheat, barley, beef, sheepmeat, dairy products, sugar, wool and cotton, is exported each year. (Dow Jones)