Zoellicks Letter Is Going To Trigger Off More Reactions

Geneva: | Updated: Jan 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
The talk of collapse of Cancun (ministerial trade talks) is not true, feels the outgoing chairman of the World Trade Organisations Committee on Agriculture (CoA) Stuart Harbinson. On the contrary, he believes that progress was made in the area of agriculture at the Cancun ministerial and the ball has to be kept rolling.

In an exclusive interview to FE, Mr Harbinson said the formation of the G20 alliance of developing countries and its pro-active role at the Cancun ministerial was a very positive development. The G20 marks an evolution in the negotiations. This is something we havent seen before, he said.

Mr Harbinson said, the letter which the United States Trade Representative (Robert Zoellick) wrote to all trade ministers recently expressing his willingness to reduce agriculture subsidies may be in part a reaction to the solidarity shown by the G20 countries. It would seem from the letter that the US is now moving closer to its original position (prior to its teaming up with the EU in agriculture, he said.

Commenting on his offer to resign as chairman of the CoA, Mr Harbinson said his draft had received strong reactions from most members. Although it had helped the process to move forward, he added, probably, it was better for someone to come in who did not have that history.

The chairman pointed out that negotiations went through phases and now that it was time for the next phase, it was better for somebody to come with fresh ideas.

He said he had played the role of a catalyst in the negotiations. The year 2003 was dynamic for the negotiations with the chairmans draft being followed by the EU-US paper, the G20 paper and the Derbez text. Now, Zoellicks letter is going to trigger off more reactions, he said.

It is very important for members to hold informal meets to make the negotiating process move forward, Mr Harbinson said. As chairman of the agriculture special session in 2002-03, I told all members that they have got to stop negotiating with me and start negotiating among themselves. Unfortunately in WTO, we seem to have got into the culture of getting chairmen to put up drafts and then negotiate with him, he said.

This has to stop and members have to realise that they have to solve the problems themselves and they cannot continuously pass on the responsibility to the chairman, Mr Harbin-son added.