On 27 June, Chair Tim Groser of the WTO agriculture negotiations circulated a ten-page paper outlining key issues requiring focused work before the end of July, asking delegates for further guidance. Members are aiming to agree on a set of "July approximations" that would serve as a limited version of the full modalities for the agriculture negotiations they hope to agree at the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December this year (see BRIDGES Weekly, 22 June 2005).
Groser is expecting some movement on market access — the trickiest pillar of the agriculture negotiations — but the actual values of tariff cuts and formulae will have to wait for later agreement at the political level. According to Groser, he needs guidance on central elements, such as number and range of the tiers in the agreed "tiered formula," as well as some more detail on sensitive and special products, which will be exempt from regular tariff cuts. Regarding domestic support, where cuts also will be based on a tiered formula, Members should likewise agree on basic elements, including the number of tiers and which countries fall within them. The elements ofthe "July approximations" dealing with export competition will focus on state trading enterprises and food aid — issues on which negotiators have already made progress.
The next ‘agriculture week’ is scheduled for 4-8 July. Key countries will convene for a mini-ministerial meeting in Dalian, China, from 12-13 July.
ICTSD reporting; "WTO Agriculture Chair Outlines Goals For July Approximation, Cites Market Access," WTO REPORTER, 29 June 2005.
Following the latest meeting of the WTO Working Party on the Accession of Russia on 24 June, Chair Ambassador Stefan Johannesson of Iceland voiced some concern about the slow progress of negotiations.
Russia is hoping to complete its negotiations in time for the WTO’s Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December (see BRIDGES Weekly, 27 April 2005). At the meeting, Russian Economics Minister German Gref asked Members for "flexibility and understanding in view of the difficulties of transforming Russia into a market economy in a short period of time." He said that Russia would not be asking for any transitional flexibilities in its bid to join the WTO. Some Members responded that in order to speed up talks, Russia would have to provide new information for many of the chapters in the draft Working Party report, which forms the basis of the accession agreement.
The Working Party was preceded by informal meetings on agriculture, sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS) and technical barriers to trade (TBT). Russia also completed its bilateral negotiations with Mexico and Norway. Acceding countries are required to complete bilateral deals with Members that request them. Russia’s accession process has lasted over ten years, and a top Russian trade official warned that if the country now fails to become a WTO Member as planned, its accession may well be delayed by several years.
ICTSD reporting; "Russia’s WTO Bid Hangs in Balance," MOSCOW TIMES, 23 June 2005; "Russia Calls For Flexibility As Chair Expresses Concern About AmountOf Work Left," WTO RELEASE, 27 June 2005; "Russia Runs Into Disagreements During Informal WTO Talks - Source," XFN-ASIA, 23 June 2005.