'Early Harvest' at WTO seems unlikely


The Doha Round had been launched at WTO level in November 2001. Its objective is to lower trade barriers around the world to facilitate the increase of global trade. Since 2008, talks have stalled over a divide on major issues, such as agriculture, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, services, and trade remedies.  The most significant differences are between developed nations led by the European Union (EU), the United States (USA), and Japan and the major developing countries led and represented mainly by Brazil, China, India, South Korea, and South Africa.


In October 2009, the Dar es Salaam Declaration, adopted by trade ministers of least-developed countries (LDCs), called for ‘quick results’ on three core priorities: duty- and quota-free market access, preferential treatment for LDC services requests, and an ‘ambitious and rapid’ elimination of cotton subsidies. This proposal, nick-named 'early harvest' received initially little attention, as the main players at the WTO remained focused on the conclusion of the Doha Round. As the Doha Round negotiations continued to stall, greater attention started to be given to the possibility of concluding an early harvest deal by the end of 2011 and in May WTO director general Pascal Lamy officially supported the idea.


However, the early harvest package is also now encountering difficulties as some of the more developed countries, especially the US, expressed their perplexity about this option. In particular the proposed inclusion of a cotton subsidies deal is difficult for the US to accept.


In July 2004, WTO Members agreed that cotton would be addressed ‘ambitiously, expeditiously and specifically’ within the agriculture negotiations. Since then, virtually nothing has happened. The ‘cotton four’ - Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali - have proposed a formula that would phase out domestic support for cotton faster and more ambitiously than subsidies for other agricultural products. The US, which is the main country targeted here, has so far refused to enter into negotiations on numbers and timelines, insisting instead that the issue cannot be settled until a deal has been struck on agriculture as

a whole, including market access.[1]


As it seems at the moment, the WTO Ministerial in December will find itself unable to discuss much more than ordinary administration issues, and, much more sadly and worryingly, LDCs will once again be denied the measures their economies so direly need, while Western farmers continue to enjoy considerable subsidies.



Thomas Lazzeri

[1] For more information on the cotton subsidies issue see Western Cotton subsidies endanger African Farmers at http://www.aefjn.org/index.php/352/articles/western-cotton-subsidies-endanger-african-farmers.html

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