Report from Geneva: Brazil — We’d Rather Posture than Negotiate

(Frank Vargo, the National Association of Manufacturers’s vice president for international economic affairs, is blogging from Geneva this week at the ministerial meeting of the WTO. )

The WTO 7th Ministerial Meeting opened yesterday afternoon, with Director General Lamy calling for unity (remarks), and minister after minister urging that the Doha Round conclude in 2010. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the gathering not to confuse process for substance and urged countries to call for a round that would generate greater market access for all. (Kirk’s remarks.) There were some signs of support for this, with some ministers referring to ambition and balance, and some suggesting that we should consider different approaches, since we really hadn’t gotten very far. But despite these welcome signs, there has not been what one could call a rising tide demanding a stronger outcome.

Instead of unity, the gulf between those who want a strong outcome and those who want to hold back became even more obvious. Rather than offering any indications the time had come to begin serious negotiations, Brazil’s Minister Amorim instead chose to come out attacking the United States and re-writing history. Amorim accused the United States of “delaying the conclusion of the round because they want to have some few dollars more in some specific sections.” Wrapping Brazil in the flag of the least developed countries, he said that reducing trade barriers would hurt tariff revenues in the poorest countries and impair their ability to cope with climate change obligations. (Reuters coverage.)

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, first, once again Amorim implied that the least developed countries will have to cut their tariffs, which is untrue. Aside from the advanced developing countries like Brazil that have become global export figures, the developing countries don’t have to do anything in the Round.

Second, Amorim again is seeking to promote his revisionist view of Doha history by stating the United States is asking for new concessions, ignoring the multitude of negotiating sessions over the past eight years in which the United States has consistently said the industrial package had to be viewed as a whole – the tariff cutting formula, sectoral agreements, and exceptions from tariff cuts.

There is nothing new here. The United States has pressed consistently for both industrial and advanced developing countries to cut their barriers, while Brazil has wanted to keep its tariff protection. Amorim expressed horror that the United States thinks the Doha Round is about opening markets.

Third, Amorim stated that under what’s on the table now, Brazil is already committed to cut its applied tariff rates more than the United States, so “it is unreasonable to expect that concluding the round would involve additional unilateral concessions from developing countries.” That’s not so.

WTO data show that the formulas would have the United States cut its applied tariffs in half, while Brazil would cut its applied tariffs only by about 1/8 – from an average of 11 percent to about 9.7 percent. Moreover, Brazil’s tariffs would stay at an average of 11 percent for nine years, and only ten years out would fall to 9.7 percent. And, get this – even then only about 40% of Brazil’s tariffs would take any cut at all. What kind of market access is that?

This is what caused former Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier to once quip that he finally understood what NAMA (Non-Agricultural Market Access) stood for – it meant “No Additional Market Access.”

It is time for Brazil to stop the rhetoric, show the leadership worthy of a major global player, and sit down and negotiate a deal that will have Brazil grant significant new market access and get significant new market access in return – and do this in services as well. You think?

Yesterday, however, brought some good news as well. The principal European business organization, BusinessEurope, came out calling for the WTO Ministerial meeting in Geneva to chart a course for the conclusion of an ambitious agreement in 2010 that for the industrial and services negotiations “must deliver” —

  • substantial new market access through ambitious tariff liberalization;
  • competitiveness-enhancing industrial and services sectoral agreements with industrial and emerging countries;
  • new disciplines to tackle non-tariff barriers; and
  • progress on all delivery modes in services liberalization;

The European Union needs to be more vocal in joining the United States in pressing for a worthy outcome for the lengthy Doha negotiations. We hope the European Commission will take its business community seriously, and will accelerate its efforts for a Doha Round that would truly expand world trade.

More tomorrow.

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