World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Lamy urged WTO members to pledge to work to salvage the faltering Doha Development Round of trade talks and ensure the multilateral trading system does not become irrelevant.

Lamy spoke during the opening of the WTO's biennial ministerial conference in Geneva. He said WTO members must address the primary question causing the impasse in the negotiations, specifically what contribution major emerging markets (China, India and Brazil) should make towards the further opening of global markets.

Efforts to re-start the Doha negotiations earlier this year following the collapse of the talks in July 2008 were unsuccessful in part because the United States insisted that Brazil, China and India increase access for goods and services. This effort was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to secure a “deliverables” package in favor of least developed countries (LDCs) for the December ministerial. That package would have included concessions on cotton.

The United States refused to include a commitment to 100 percent duty-free/quota free market access for exports from LDCs without additional initiatives that would benefit developed and developing country exporters. To facilitate the discussion of a way forward, Lamy said he would convene a “panel of multi-stakeholders of the WTO” to analyze all these elements and report back to the WTO membership by the end of 2012.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told the Bureau of National Affairs that he was encouraged that more and more WTO members were coming to the realization that the Doha talks could not go on with “business as usual.” He noted, “We can't go back to the same formula and think we'll magically produce a different result. At least we've acknowledged we're at an impasse.”

Kirk said that the WTO also must lead the way to examine the issues of vital importance to a “healthy global trading system.” These include establishing new market access, disciplining fisheries subsidies leading to stock depletion, food security, trade facilitation and regional trade agreements, he said. He said members should celebrate the organization's “day-to-day work” through its standing committees and monitoring functions, as well as the contributions of the dispute settlement system and existing rules. He struck a similar tone during a Nov. 30 speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which he stressed that there is "more to the WTO than just Doha."

In a related development, USTR outlined a series of initiatives aimed at helping LDCs benefit more fully from global trade. In a statement, available at www.ustr.gov/about-us/press-office/press-releases/2011/december/united-states-announces-new-initiatives-boost-tra, the Office of the US Trade Representative said the administration would “work energetically” with Congress to enact legislation extending the “third-country fabric” provision under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to ’15. The third-country fabric provision allows least-developed beneficiaries under AGOA to use fabric from outside the United States and Africa when assembling apparel for duty-free export to the United States. USTR said the United States also would take “important, new steps” to provide access for in-quota imports of upland cotton fiber from LDCs.

C-4

The United States also will extend an assistance program (West African Cotton Improvement Program) for the so-called “Cotton-4” (C-4) countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali upon the expiration of the existing program in April 2012.

In response to the USTR announcement the NCC issued a statement, available at www.cotton.org/news/releases/2011/wacip.cfm, that: 1) commended the Administration for its efforts to resolve cotton trade issues, 2) recommended that the US cotton industry financially support and engage in a more structured exchange between U.S. and W. African industry leaders, 3) urged other major cotton producing countries to follow the NCC’s lead and offer the same duty free access to the LDCs, and 4) urged major cotton producing countries to promote an open and transparent system for global cotton fiber trade, by collectively removing distortions from the cotton fiber market -- which have been particularly disruptive to growers in LDCs.

China also announced that it would be offering $20 million worth of technical and financial assistance to four W. African nations to help their cotton growers. At a press conference in Geneva to announce the initiative, China's trade minister, Chen Deming, said the assistance to Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali would be provided over a three-year period, with the possibility of renewal. The effort will include transferring technology; providing technical assistance for research into plant varieties and seed; supplying cotton plant varieties suitable to growers in W. Africa; supplying agricultural machinery, fertilizer, and seed; and financing educational programs of benefit to cotton growers.