THE Australian Government has won a powerful ally in its No Agriculture ‹ No WTO Round push, with US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick committing to a similar stand at the Cairns Group meeting in Bolivia last week.
Australia's trade minister Mark Vaile has long maintained that if substantial gains aren't made in agriculture trade reform during the current round of WTO multilateral trade negotiations Australia would walk away from the deal, collapsing the whole round.
Speaking at a Cairns Group press conference in Bolivia, Mr Zoellick for the first time was just as blunt in his language, committing the US to a similar position.
"Agriculture will be the cornerstone of a successful Doha Development Agenda," Mr Zoellick said.
"We have to move forward on agriculture if we are going to have a successful negotiating round."
Both the Cairns Group and the US have submitted their agriculture negotiating proposals to the WTO, unlike the the European Union and Japan, which have yet to do so.
Both Mr Zoellick and Mr Vaile also called on the European Union and Japan to submit their proposals as soon as possible, so negotiations weren't delayed.
But WTO director general Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, who was also at the Cairns Group meeting, told Farm Weekly that the EU may not even submit a formal proposal to the WTO.
EU enlargement and the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy had been foremost in the minds of the Europeans and would affect the trading bloc's negotiating position, Dr Supachai said, which could prevent them from submitting a formal proposal.
But the WTO boss said the Europeans would still be consulted by WTO agriculture negotiating committee chair Stuart Harbinson, but informally, as it was important they were included rather than excluded.
Mr Vaile said if the EU couldn't come up with a plan, there was a real argument that they should be ignored when Mr Harbinson draws up the WTO draft negotiating platform, which must be completed by December 31.
"If there are only submissions from the Cairns Group and the United States on the table, that should be all he draws from," Mr Vaile said.
To develop a comprehensive blueprint, Mr Harbinson needs to know all participants' viewpoints before he can begin work on constructing the document and the rules of the agriculture negotiations which must also be completed by March 31, 2003.
The December 31 deadline will be the first time negotiating countries will get a chance to gauge just what direction the negotiations may take.
Dr Supachai said the platform would not be a compendium of positions tabled to the WTO, but a real working document.
Drawing up that platform without an official proposal from the important EU will be a big blow to the speed and clarity of the negotiations.
Dr Supachai said he expected to receive negotiating text from Japan sometime in November, and that he also believed the two agriculture negotiating deadlines would be met despite the delays.