WTO: Is the US the stumbling block in the road to a WTO Agreement on fisheries subsidies?

This is the conclusion one could draw from reading some of the press articles reporting on the recently concluded WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva.

These articles suggest that the best way to salvage the Doha round is to "smash the deal into digestible pieces" (as put in an article by LauraMacInnis of Reuters published on Thu Dec 3, 2009).

Another article by Jason Rhodes, also in Reuters, titled "WTO urged to spin off fishing pact to protect seas" is more specific and refers to Oceana and its campaign to  promote a quick agreement on fisheries subsidies.

"Oceana, a lobby group based in the United States, said on Tuesday a potential fisheries agreement could be spun out from the Doha agenda, which requires full consensus across all politically sensitive negotiating areas to be clinched. "I think the fisheries negotiations are one of few issues that have made steady progress in the Doha Round," Oceana's Courtney Sakai said, suggesting success in fishing could provide a model for trade talks in other areas such as clean fuels. "The world's fish need a WTO deal, not necessarily a Doha deal, and soon," she said. The soonest a Doha deal could be clinched is next year, but doubts are growing about whether that 2010 goal is achievable.

So, Oceana would like to see an stand alone agreement for this negotiating subject, completely detached from the 'Rules negotiating chapter' and, obviously from the other two big chuncks of the round, namely agriculture and NAMA. Or, put otherwise, take out fisheries subsidies from the so called 'single undertaking' (nothing is agreed until everything has been agreed).

Well, it seems that the first person who will have to be persuaded that the single undertaking has to be abandoned is Mr Kirk, the US chief negotiator.

In the first article I was referring to, on smashing the WTO deal in digestible pieces, Mr Kirk is quoted as saying:

"We want you to go ahead and do duty-free, quota-free, we want you to go ahead and do cotton, but you'll kind of figure out what the U.S. will get down the line, and I felt: What about nothing's decided until everything's decided?" Kirk said.

The problem seems to be that fisheries subsidies is not the only "digestible piece" into which the Doha round could be smashed.

Other "pieces" into which the Doha round could be smashed, such as an agreement to cut subsidies to the cotton industry in rich countries, or a commitment by these same countries to provide duty free quota free access to least developed countries, an agreement on Geographical Indications (pushed by the EU) or a revised anti-dumping agreement that would not include "zeroing", are not very digestible by the US, at least not now.

I suggest thus to Oceana that they use all their power of persuasion to bring the US administration to digest what is on table now, if they want to see new WTO rules on fisheries subsidies. There are other "dishes" on the table with more digestible food (think for instance of agriculture, environmetal goods). It is by eating the whole 'menu" that WTO Members will ensure that everybody gets comparable levels of satisfaction (or disatisfaction) at the end of the meal.

Here are the links to the articles:

WTO urged to spin off fishing pact to protect seas


Calls grow to smash WTO deal into digestible pieces


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