Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Right-On Analyis of What Transpired at the World Trade Organization's Nairobi Ministerial Conference by Tuft's University's Global Development and Economic Institute

Don't Buy the Spin
The WTO talks in Nairobi ended badly and
India will pay a price

Biraj Patnaik and Timothy A Wise
Scroll (India)
December 24, 2015

It didn’t take long for the spin masters to begin working their magic on the latest dismal World Trade Organisation summit in Nairobi. WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo waxed eloquent about the “historic” agreement, stating in a post-meeting press conference that the agreement “will improve the lives of those who most need to benefit from trade, especially those in Africa”.

But what really happened in Nairobi and what does it mean for future trade negotiations?

We've had the Financial Times declaring the Doha Development Agenda dead, if not buried. For those unfamiliar with the Doha Round, it has been the only negotiating platform to discuss the concerns of developing countries, particularly with reference to agriculture and farm subsidies, in the 15 years at the WTO.

While the claims of Doha death are, as Mark Twain might have said, premature, there is no doubt the development agenda has been undermined. Developing countries got very little in Nairobi, official press releases aside, and they are likely to get even less in a future characterised by Southern incoherence and Northern dominance.

Taking stock of the real development outcomes

Beyond the future of Doha, Azevedo and  claimed major advances were made in Nairobi. They touted the “breakthrough” on export competition between countries, cited advances on the controversial issues of special import protection for the agriculture produce of developing countries, and the public stockholding of food. A permanent solution on the public stockholding issue would allow countries like India to buy food grains from farmers at the minimum support price and provide it to the poor under the provisions of the National Food Security Act.

While India has a “peace clause” that allows it to continue with the programme, till such time that a permanent solution is reached, developed countries like the United States, European Union and Japan continue to stall the permanent solution and have rejected every constructive proposal put forth by the developing countries.

In Nairobi, WTO leaders also pointed to the technology agreement and hailed market access agreements for the world’s Least Developed Countries, which are home to some of the planet's poorest and most marginalised communities. And they claimed long-overdue action on cotton.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Don’t believe the spin.

The technology agreement? It does not affect all countries, just the ones that opt in. China opted in. Kenya didn't. A win for developing countries? Nope: it’s great for technology exporters. Not too many of those in Africa right now.

What about the LDC package? Surely, enhancing access to rich country markets for goods produced in LDCs is good for development? The agreements reached in Nairobi extend so-called “duty-free, quota-free” exports from LDCs, but not all exports are covered. Industrialised nations exclude “sensitive” tariff lines on products such as textiles to such an extent that more than 90% of LDC exports may be excluded.

Agriculture subsidies

The most misleading spin, however, concerns measures in agriculture, so oversold that one Kenyan paper headlined the end of rich country agricultural subsidies. Not by a long shot, in fact, they weren’t even on the table.

What was agreed was an elimination of export subsidies and limits on other forms of rich country export promotion, such as food aid and subsidized export financing, practiced extensively by the United States. This is indeed a positive step – export subsidies are the most trade-distorting of all as they undercut markets in importing countries by defraying some export costs, which in turn makes products from the European Union and the US cheaper in foreign markets. Those products, and the companies that make them, get an unfair competitive advantage, and the WTO long ago agreed in principle to eliminate them.

But the Nairobi agreement really did little more than put a firm cap on existing practices. The EU had already stopped subsidizing its exports, and US resisted putting binding restrictions on most of its export promotion, so the Nairobi deal is unlikely to reduce export promotion much from current levels.

And other Northern agricultural subsidies? They remain untouched, removed from the agenda by the United States and other rich countries. These are indeed the most trade-distorting agricultural policies in rich countries today, as they are very large and encourage overproduction of crops, which then get exported cheaply to developing countries.

The 2014 US farm legislation, in fact, has been shown to likely result in subsidies in excess of the country’s current WTO commitments and well beyond the commitments negotiated in the Doha Round before the US walked away from the negotiations in 2008. And that’s one of the reasons the US walked away.

Spinning cotton

Kenya’s Amina Mohamed put a particularly heavy spin on the cotton agreement reached in Nairobi, saying it “will contribute even more to economic growth in all countries, particularly the Cotton 4 (the four major cotton producing countries in West Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, popularly known as the Cotton 4 or C4) which have been waiting for this outcome for many years”.

But the much-touted cotton deal only gives preferred market access for some cotton products and expedites the elimination of export subsidies. It does not touch domestic subsidies in the United States, by far the greatest source of trade distortion.

So the C-4 can expect to see continued US cotton subsidies estimated at $1.5 billion per year, which will increase US exports 29% and suppress cotton prices 7%. This will cost the C-4 an estimated $80 million per year in lost cotton revenues. That is more than 300 times the gains last year from market access under US Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which totaled just $264,000.

Jump-starting further negotiations?

Officials most hailed the Nairobi agreement for reinvigorating the WTO’s negotiating function, and there is no doubt that reaching an agreement prevented the complete abandonment of the institution by rich countries.

But the agreement itself, by failing to reaffirm clearly the commitment to the Doha Round, eliminated any incentive for rich countries to negotiate. They can now condition further negotiations over “outstanding Doha issues” on the inclusion of “new issues”, a huge setback for developing countries.

Developing countries won only vague commitments in Nairobi to resolve the public stockholding issue and to enable a safeguard mechanism to slow import surges that undermine domestic producers, a right rich countries have enjoyed for years. Expect no further progress unless developing countries are prepared to pay a price, such as putting public procurement that favours domestic industries on the chopping block.

After Nairobi, it is hard to imagine US negotiators even discussing reductions in its domestic farm subsidies. If they do, what will India need to give in return? Perhaps a WTO version of the kind of investment agreement that India has firmly rejected in bilateral talks with the US.

India caved in

At Nairobi, despite a valiant fight put up by Indian negotiators, in the final moments of the drafting of the ministerial declaration, the political leadership caved in and refused to seek amendments to it, or block it, as they could have done. Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharamans’ predecessors Murasoli Maran and Kamal Nath had done precisely this in past ministerial summits, protecting India’s interests at the WTO.

But with little support from the political leadership at the highest level, Sitharaman, invited into the select group of five countries (with the US, EU, Brazil and China) to negotiate the final text of the Nairobi agreement, let the rich countries have their way. In the end, she merely expressed her “disappointment” at India’s red lines being breached with no reaffirmation of the Doha Development Agenda in the final ministerial, no permanent solution on the public stockholding issue and just a promise to negotiate an unspecified safeguard mechanism for developing countries.

The price that India will pay for this in the years to come will be far higher than what the government is willing to concede now, as future generation of negotiators will discover.

Biraj Patnaik is the Principal Adviser to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court in the Right to Food case. Timothy A. Wise is a researcher at Tufts University in the United States.
© Copyright Scroll 2015. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015


      Here's Washington Trade Daily's Jim Berger and US Trade Representative Michael Froman discussing how the United States and Britain negotiated a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation 200 years ago -- a precursor to the current series of bilateral investment treaties. First British ships sailed past Baltimore, then troops scared away defenders in Bladensburg and marched to Washington to burn the Capitol and run President and Mrs. Madison out of the White House.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015


As the world economy declines – driven by a fall-off in trade and increased protectionist barriers, according to recent reports by the World Trade Organization and analyses by some prestigious think tanks – trade negotiators are not helping much to avoid a possible catastrophe.

Even though the United States and 11 other countries of the Asia-Pacific region – some huge economies like Canada, Mexico and Japan – have just agreed to a massive “free trade” agreement, the real impact of the “reforms” is in doubt.  The agreement is advertised as covering some 64 percent of the world economy.

But the real task of getting the world economy on the right path is to deal with underlying economic issues on an inclusive basis.  The nearly 15-year-old Doha Development Agenda negotiations were intended to do just that by forcing structural adjustments in industrial and developing countries alike.  Many of the same nontariff reforms – as written into the TPP and anticipated in the ongoing TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the European Union – are contained in the still incomplete Doha negotiating package.

There has been a distinctive lack of momentum in the past decade and a half on Doha – almost from the very beginning in 2001.  Except for a brief period under President George W. Bush, the United States has shown little interest in getting the multifaceted negotiations off the ground.

While TPP, for instance, encompasses only two real developing countries under its umbrella – Malaysia and Vietnam – Doha takes into account the benefits of 162 members – including a vast majority of the world’s least-developed and developing countries.

Are developing economies not worth the attention?  Hardly.  Most are experiencing rapid and high economic growth compared to the mature industrial countries.  For developing countries the potential for growth and trade often is just below the surface – to be exploited by all WTO members, including the United States.  A special issue of National Geographic magazine on Africa last year suggested that the continent – with all its poverty and lack of infrastructure – has massive economic potential.  Unexploited oil reserves are greater than those in all of the Middle East and the agriculture potential – to feed the world – is massive.  That is why China, Japan, South Korea, a scattering of Gulf countries and even European nations and the United States are buying up tracks of land there.

Yet Africa is the only continent left out of bilateral and regional free trade agreements and are being ignore in the Geneva negotiations by the economic powers that be there.

Rather, the United States is taking a different approach by focusing on more immediate concerns – what it can get from “like-minded” countries via free trade agreements.  The World Trade Organization at present counts has some 600 FTAs in force – and a lot more coming.  Some 123 agreements this year alone are still unreported to the WTO.

The good thing, according to a recent report on RTAs, is that they are all reciprocal – and most mirror WTO principles.  But the bad thing, according to a senior WTO trade official recently, is that no one quite knows where they are leading.  Should members start stepping away from the WTO to write rules on trade on their own, the organization as a negotiating body would be in jeopardy.

The United States is doing as little as it can since the short term of former USTR Rob Portman – now US senator from Ohio – to move the global trade agenda along.  Apparently the Obama Administration prefers to see a return after 20 years to the old GATT – General Agreement to Talk and Talk – where leisurely philosophical discussions with no deadlines can take place around a placid Lake Geneva.

That may be the reality after the December 15 to 18 ministerial conference.  There has been urgent consultations among WTO members to salvage the talks – and the moribund Doha Development Agenda.  The United States, supported by its major industrial allies – the European Union appears to be a notable exception – wants nothing more than to see the final nail driven into the Doha coffin.

What happens now?  The Nairobi agenda will be a “small” – read microscopic – package of proposals.  It will include another one-year extension of the moratorium on bringing non-violation complaints to the WTO Trade-Relations Intellectual Property Rights Agreement along with new – unexamined – work plans for electronic commerce and small economies.  Essentially those agenda items amount to nil in the scheme of things global.

Developing countries – led courageously by India, China and South Africa – are fighting for commitments from all WTO members – at least to recognize the work that has been done on Doha.  But because they are up against the political behemoths of the United States, South Korea and Japan, in particular, those efforts are likely to fall flat in Nairobi.

In the meantime the United States is showing its real intentions.  It has just wrapped up TPP – and is now actively pushing for an extension to other “like-minded” countries.  India – which some Administration officials had suggested could join the TPP – now seems out of the running.  You can say the same about the other BRICS countries – Brazil, China and South Africa – the largest and fastest-growing economies in the world.  Russia is not even a consideration given the current state of political affairs with the United States.

Not only is the United States pursuing a policy of exclusion, but last week it started pursuing a policy of retribution.  It announced rare labor practices reviews with some very major non-TPP countries like – Thailand, the Philippines, Ecuador, Fiji, Georgia, Iraq, Niger and Uzbekistan.

The only hope of the United States getting back into the business leading the process of expanding and improving global trade will be up to the next President.  While many of the front runners have turned away from supporting TPP, all have left open prospects of acting multilaterally – in the WTO?   We’ll see how the campaign debate on trade evolves – IF AT ALL.

— Jim Berger

Friday, June 5, 2015




Washington Trade Daily and Transparency in Geneva





Insight: WTO: Where are
we heading?

APEC ministers responsible for trade have just completed a two-day meeting in the resort area of Boracay, the Philippines, on May 24. In keeping with a long tradition, the trade ministers discussed better ways for APEC to strengthen its support for the multilateral trading system and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The director general of the WTO, ambassador Roberto Azevedo, was invited to the meeting and briefed ministers on the latest status of defining post-Bali work programs and working toward a successful WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, later this year.

It seems all critical issues under the Doha Development Agenda have seen their respective comfortable landing zones, and ministers are now looking into ways to nicely pack them all by July for a final conclusion of the Doha negotiations in Nairobi.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Developing countries’ trade envoys in Geneva have become more concerned these days that discussions on such important issues have been kept behind closed doors in meetings among the so-called G5-Plus countries — namely the US, the EU, China, India, Brazil, Australia and Japan, with the director-general as the chair. To make things even worse, the rest of the WTO members could get information on what has been discussed only from some publications such as the Washington Trade Daily and more recently, the Third World Network’s journal SUNS.

In its May 19 edition, SUNS reported how developed countries of the G5 put pressure on China and India to agree to a much-lowered ambition on market-liberalization of agricultural and industrial goods in a clear attempt to set the scene so that flexibility sought by developing countries would lose ground. Such a concerted effort by key developed countries is pursued in the spirit of what the US called a “recalibrated” approach and the EU idea of a “simplified” approach to defining post-Bali work programs, which should help concluding the Doha negotiations.

The report has raised even more concerns among developing countries as it became much clearer that developed countries did practically nothing to rectify the existing imbalances in global trade. These rich countries are allowed to provide a huge amount of subsidies in agriculture while developing countries needing to expand their support to poor farmers and addressing rural poverty are prevented from doing so by the existing agreements.

Developing countries also realize that with a much lowered ambition on market access combined with no commitment to reducing domestic subsidies, the developed countries will continue enjoying their unchallenged muscle to access markets in developing countries with heavily subsidized agriculture products.

Is this the terms on which developing countries will be willing to conclude the Doha negotiations and allow developed countries to introduce a new round of multilateral trade negotiations focusing purely on commercial issues?

When WTO trade ministers agreed to launch the Doha Development Agenda in 2001, it was understood that the agenda would be balanced: it will further improve global trade by lowering barriers and rectify the imbalances that have been in favor of rich countries, and at the same time provide additional flexibility for developing countries to address their development challenges.

This mandate has been reiterated by the 2004 July framework agreement, the 2005 Hong Kong ministerial declaration and the 2008 revised draft modalities in agricultural and industrial goods. While it is widely understood that they are not cast in stone, developing countries believe that the 2008 draft modalities provide the best basis to define a roadmap to conclude the round, and they are willing to consider recalibrating these draft modalities to make them more relevant to the current dynamics of the negotiations.

Ambassador Azevedo himself, as the Brazilian ambassador to the WTO, wrote in 2012 that “the December 2008 draft modalities are the basis for negotiations and represent the end-game in terms of the landing zones of ambition. Any marginal adjustments in the level of ambition of those texts may be assessed only in the context of the overall balance of trade-off, bearing in mind that agriculture is the engine of the round.”

He went on to argue that “the draft modalities embody a delicate balance achieved after 10 years of negotiations. This equilibrium cannot be ignored, or we will need adjustments of the entire package with horizontal repercussions. Such readjustments cannot entail additional unilateral concessions from developing countries.”

The questions the developing-country trade envoys have now are how could a few developed countries working with the director-general think that they could just focus on lowering the ambition on tariff liberalization and getting rid of all other issues which could be critical to developing countries? And do we abandon all the mandates agreed by ministers just to conclude the round in December and praise Africa as the land of the Doha conclusion?

It is obvious, however, that ministers from the developing world need to insist strongly that the conversations in Geneva should be inclusive and transparent, that flexibility for developing countries is a must and that there is no need to rush to conclude the Doha Development Agenda so long as there is no proper balance between improving the global trade for all and leveling the playing field for developing countries.

To countries like Indonesia and to members of a group of developing countries known as the G33 with its 47 members, this would mean that the group’s proposals on agricultural special products and a special safeguard mechanism should be accommodated as part of the Doha outcomes.

The writer is the Indonesian ambassador in charge of the WTO. This is a personal view.
- See more at: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2015/05/27/insight-wto-where-are-we-heading.html#sthash.jRibtxLO.dpuf

Friday, April 3, 2015





(wide camera shot of a small, well trimmed front yard of a hundred-year-old modest clapboard two-story house, with a wide-open, warm and inviting covered entry way.)

(the camera pans through a front window of the house to focus on owner Sen. Ron Wydon in the middle of a telephone conversation)

Sen. Wydon casually dressed for the week-end away from Washington – wearing a cardigan sports coat over an open collar blue dress shirt and not-well worn jeans – is seen standing up and talking in a friendly, but distinct manner on the telephone.  Here is his side of the conversation –

It goes like this –

Wydon – “Yes, Orrin, I understand.  You know that I have consistently voted for trade legislation”

(unheard response from Sen. Hattch) ......


Wydon – “You know I am committed to free trade.  It’s something that has made my state of Oregon great.  I don’t have to tell you how exports have added to the state’s economy – and its workforce.”


Wydon – “Yes Orrin.  I know”


Wydon – “I understand.  No one knows better the benefits that trade has bestowed on this state.”


Wydon – “No.  It is not a partisan issue with me.  What Democratic senator in his right mind would oppose both you and the President?  It is something different.   Nothing personal.”


Wydon – “Hold on for a minute Orrin.  I can’t understand what you’re saying.  There seems to be some noise on the line.  No, its coming from outside.  I’ll call you right back.”


(camera pans backwards from the window to a gathering of about a half-zone middle aged – from early to almost elderly men and women – standing on the front sidewalk and dressed in well-worn jeans that look vintage Salvation Army or kept since college days 40 years ago.)

The demonstrators – lined up in a row of six – are holding up hand-made signs.  One for each.

One placard is a enlarged full-face photo of Sen. Wydon.  Another is a cartoon balloon tag pointing to Sen. Wydon’s open mouth – saying:  “I Believe in Transparency.  That’s Why A Secret Trade Deal Sounds Good to Me.  We’ll have to push it through quick with FAST TRACK.”

Two others, standing closer to each other – perhaps husband and wife, hold print-shop signs.  One says – “Ron Wydon:  New York’s 3rd Senator and Orrin Hattch’s New Best Friend.”  The wife – or loyal live-in partner since the old days – holds a similar placard reading – “Wydon of New York.  Out-Smarted by Orrin Hattch on “Fast Track” & Corporate Trade”

(aside – the woman is looking intensely at her pink i-Phone.”

The ruckus gradually peters out, leaving a single demonstrator – and from the looks of him a survivor of the early stages of the Baby Boomers – continues to shout in a distinct and loud tone – “Hell No, We Won’t Go!  Hell No, We Won’t Go!  Hell No, We Won’t Go!”

The group dissipates after a strenuous ten-minute workout.

(The camera pans up to the sky capturing a white commercial advertising blimp – like those common on sale days at auto dealer parks.  Attached to the side is a banner reading – “Ron Wydon!  It’s no to you.  Don’t betray us.”)

The sky is clear and cloudless.


(Camera returns, peering again through the front window as Sen. Wydon scratches and then shakes his head in wonderment.)

The senator dials the phone – waits a brief few seconds and says –

Wydon –  “Hello Orrin.  Sorry about that.  Just a little disturbance out front.   It’s all taken care of now.”


Wydon – Orrin.  Just can’t do it.  It has nothing to do with reason and everything to do with the game.  You know what I mean.   Getting reelected sometimes means taking less than reasonable approaches.   That’s what’s happening here.


Wydon – You see this is the last chance for my aging Oregon “free spirts” to have a go-round in life.  Mostly greyed and wrinkled, they view it as their final opportunity to be relevant, to bring back their youth and optimism of decades ago.  They just want to save the world from itself one more time.  Get away from the tv set and experience life again – if at least for a fleeting few moments.  You know what I mean.  You lived the turmoil of the ‘60s.  I think they had that decade in Utah.  You can understand, can’t you?

Sen. Hattch – a muffled “No” is heard from the ear pieces.  (For a moment Sen. Wydon holds the phone away from his ear.)


Wydon – I just witnessed the plain truth of what I was saying.  These constituents of mine want to take a last stab on making change happen before they are carried away to the great beyond.  And TPP and TPA is their target – more by happenstance then by intention.  For them, time and circumstances have collided.


Wydon – But they are my constituents and I’m their’s.


Wydon – Yes you may be right, but I have a responsibility to my voters.  


Wydon – Yes I recognize that you answer to a higher authority in Utah.  It’s not quite like that in Oregon.


Wydon – I have a responsibility to make them comfortable in their fading years.  And if that means opening the books on TPP and TPA, then so be it.


Wydon – No choice.  Can’t do it.


Wydon – Maybe things will be different after next November.


Wydon – See you in Washington.

Friday, March 6, 2015

How We Got Here (Or How We Didn’t) – A TPA Timeline

While we’re all waiting around to see if a bipartisan, bicameral Trade Promotion Authority bill emerges from negotiations on Capitol Hill that are taking longer than hoped, it might be interesting to see how we got here – or how we didn’t – and how positions on TPA kept changing, especially the Administration’s views.
We’re put together a timeline on the ever-changing state-of-play on TPA taken from articles published in WTD over the past 18 months, beginning around the time President Obama nominated Michael Froman as his US Trade Representative.

June 7, 2013 – President Obama wants Trade Promotion Authority “as soon as possible,” Michael Froman – his nominee to be the next US Trade Representative – said yesterday.  “TPA is a critical tool," Mr. Froman told the Senate Finance Committee at his confirmation hearing, pledging to work with Congress to craft the legislation.

September 30, 2013 – President Obama told his President's Export Council yesterday that he needs TPA and is hoping trade is one area where he can get “good bipartisan support” from Congress.  The President said he will need TPA in order to push ahead with the two main items on his trade agenda – the TransPacific Partnership, which he said is “very far along” toward conclusion this year, and the recently launched Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

December 16, 2013 – Top Congressional lawmakers reached agreement on Friday on legislation that would give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority in order to complete the ongoing TransPacific Partnership and future trade agreements.  ....  They plan to formally introduce the bill shortly after Congress reconvenes in January and hope to move it through Congress quickly, so that the Administration can complete the TPP negotiations.

January 10, 2014 – Key Congressional lawmakers yesterday formally introduced what they hailed as “bipartisan, bicameral” legislation to give the President Trade Promotion Authority – but without the support of any House Democrats.

January 17, 2014 – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont) said yesterday he intends to mark up legislation (S 1900) giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority “soon” after Congress returns from next week's recess.

January 29, 2014 – President Obama last night called for Congress to work with him on bipartisan Trade promotion Authority so that he can bring home job-creating free trade agreements with Europe and the Asia-Pacific.


January 30, 2014 – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev) yesterday told backers of Trade Promotion Authority not to push him to bring legislation to the floor anytime soon.

February 4, 2014 – President Obama will push to secure Trade Promotion Authority from Congress so that his Administration can conclude two major trade deals that will boost US exports and create higher-paying jobs, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters yesterday.  The President will be working both sides of the political aisle in order the get TPA done, the White House spokesman said.  Mr. Obama hosts House Democrats this evening at the White House and speaks to Senate Democrats on Thursday.

February 6, 2014 – White House spokesman Jay Carney yesterday declined to say whether President Obama will push for quick action on Trade Promotion Authority, telling reporters that it is up to Congress to make the call when to vote.

February 12, 2014 – Incoming Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore) said yesterday he feels no urgency to move on legislation (S 1900) giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority.  The senator told reporters he wants to take time to talk to committee members and other senators before taking any action on a bill.


March 4, 2014 – President Obama renewed his call for Trade Promotion authority Tuesday, saying it is essential for carrying out his trade agenda, including completion of the ongoing TransPacific Partnership negotiations.

June 19, 2014 – Two senior Democratic members of Congress said yesterday it seemingly makes little sense to pass Presidential Trade Promotion Authority this year as the two major trade agreements the United States is negotiating are well on their way to fruition.

July 18, 2014 – Every one of the Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee told the White House yesterday not to complete the TransPacific Partnership agreement until President Obama has Trade Promotion Authority in place.

July 24, 2014 – Bringing home a “high-standard” TransPacific Partnership agreement will pave the way for Congressional approval of Presidential Trade Promotion Authority, Acting Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler said yesterday.


October 31 ,2014 – His primary task now, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said yesterday, is to get good trade agreements with the 12 nations participating in the TransPacific Partnership and a likewise good agreements with the European Union under the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  It will be Congress’ responsibility to deal with granting the Obama Administration special Trade Promotion Authority.

November 20, 2014 – “Whenever the opportunity exists” the Administration will push Congress to take up special Trade Promotion Authority – but so far the time is not ripe, US Trade Representative Michael Froman told an audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center yesterday.


December 16, 2014 – The Administration is hoping that Congress will take up legislation to give President Obama Trade Promotion Authority early next year, paving the way for completion of negotiations on the TransPacific Partnership, White House chief economic advisor Jeffrey Zients said yesterday.  “We need to get TPA done and then get TPP across the finish line,” Mr. Zients said.

January 14, 2015 – President Obama told Congressional leaders of both political parties yesterday he thinks trade will be one area for bipartisan cooperation in the new Congress.

January 21, 2015 – President Obama last evening called on lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle to give him Trade Promotion Authority, even as he acknowledged past trade agreements “haven’t always lived up to the hype.”...Earlier in the day, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said that he wants to move “carefully but quickly” on Trade Promotion Authority legislation.


January 23, 2015 – The Administration stands ready to do all it can to secure the votes needed to pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation, US Trade Representative Michael Froman assured House and Senate lawmakers yesterday.  ....  Both Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) and Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said passage of TPA is their top priority.  The two lawmakers are still in consultations – along with Finance ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (D-Ore) – to see if they can reach agreement on a TPA bill.  Sen. Hatch told reporters he still hopes to see action on TPA in February.  Mr. Ryan declined to predict timing, citing the ongoing discussions.

February 2, 2015 – President Obama is less concerned about how many House Democrats he can deliver to vote for legislation giving him Trade Promotion Authority than in just getting the bill passed, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Friday.

February 16, 2015 – House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc) hopes to have a “bipartisan, bicameral” Trade Promotion Authority bill ready “pretty soon” – but acknowledged the legislation is still under negotiation.

February 20, 2015 – President Obama used his Saturday weekly address to the nation to make his latest push for Congress to grant him Trade Promotion Authority.


February 24, 2015 – US Trade Representative Michael Froman said yesterday it is time to get Trade Promotion Authority legislation done – but it also needs to be updated to reflect the way the global economy works.

February 25, 2015 – An effort to craft bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority legislation has hit a snag in the Senate, threatening to delay introduction of a measure that President Obama is urging Congress to pass.

February 26, 2015 – With efforts still underway to finalize a bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) opted to postpone a hearing planned for today on the trade agenda.

March 2, 2015 – Lack of Trade Promotion Authority is having an impact in the ongoing TransPacific Partnership negotiations, where countries are hesitant to make compromises on politically sensitive issues that might be changed by Congress, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday.

March 4, 2015 – Senate action on Trade Promotion Authority legislation is not likely to happen now until April because of a continued stalemate over the “fast track” legislative process, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Hatch) told reporters yesterday.

March 5, 2015 – Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (Ore) are still trying to strike a deal on a bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority bill – but a number of issues remain, according to Sen. Wyden’s office.

And then.........

Monday, January 26, 2015




President Obama Offers Free Trade as Reluctantly as Possible

President Obama has proven once again that he is his own worst enemy on trade policy. Despite expectations that he would make a strong push for trade promotion authority (TPA), President Obama offered only quick mention of trade in this week’s State of the Union address. 

Although he did ask Congress to pass TPA to help him complete free trade agreements, the president backed up that request with some of the weakest arguments possible. I’ll give you the entire two paragraphs here:

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

“Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense. But 95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

This is essentially a protectionist argument in favor of trade agreements. According to the president, the trade agreements his administration is negotiating will protect American workers from (1) China, (2) unfair competition, and (3) outsourcing. They’ll level the playing field and bring back jobs to America.”

Isn’t that what tariffs and subsidies are for?!

Free trade and free trade agreements are meant to open up the U.S. economy to foreign competition and opportunity. The result is economic growth, innovation, better quality of life, more jobs, higher wages, and international peace. President Obama could have based his argument on any one of those rationales. He instead chose to talk about who makes the rules. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this president thinks economic success comes from government writing the best rules.

At the core of this focus on rules is the call for enforcement. The president says “we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.” He may be referring to bringing cases at the World Trade Organization, where the United States has won nine cases, mostly against China, since Obama took office. During that same period the United States lost 15 cases brought by other members—we are a notorious trade scofflaw, even when we write the rules. Ironically, the most common way the United States breaks the rules is through abusive antidumping measures, which technically count as part of Obama’s “enforcement” efforts. Sometimes, though, breaking the rules simply means selling lots of goods at low prices. For example, in a past address President Obama touted actions taken to protect the U.S. tire industry from mundane Chinese competition.

This enforcement rhetoric appeals to the ranks of trade-skeptic Democrats who routinely use foreign rule-breaking as an excuse for protectionism and a reason to oppose trade agreements. 

To Obama’s credit, perhaps knowing that the president is also a protectionist will convince some of those Democrats to support his trade agenda.

I doubt our negotiating partners overseas find the president’s “pitch” at all reassuring. Calling our trade partners cheaters who need to be reined in with new rules that benefit American companies and keep jobs in America is what protectionists do when arguing against free trade. It is a sad and cynical way to promote free trade agreements. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


At a recent trade forum in Washington, a veteran agricultural trade hand shared a panel with some US trade officials.  He said three times in an hour – “DOHA IS DEAD!”

On the same panel a ranking US agriculture official announced – in “meek” terms – new-found US support for a renewed Doha Development Agenda which since 2008 has been in “deep freeze.” The “new” attitude emerges as the United States takes credit for breaking the deadlock in Geneva with India over a much-touted Trade Facilitation Agreement and getting China to go along with restarted Information Trade Agreement talks in Geneva.  The latter talks have gotten stuck again, but most in Geneva say it is only temporary.

The USTR official told WTD that the United States and other Doha “skeptics” are taking another look at the multilateral trade negotiations – which officially got underway in late 2001, stalled in 2003 and again in 2008 and now can only be described as being on life support.

But the official indicated that the re-start must follow US strictures.  Members will have to take a re-look at the new realities of trade on the ground – especially in agriculture.  Washington will not agree to a resumption from where negotiations left off in 2008.  That already is a well espoused public US position made here and in Geneva.

The official, when talking about agriculture, was not specific about whether the talks should start from scratch, whether some controversial issues should be spun off for expedience or whether negotiators should simply set a date for conclusion and get done what can be done in that time-frame.

Developing countries – that see far more immediate and long-lasting benefits from a full multilateral round – are equally insistent on getting a re-start.  Agriculture is essentially squared away in the 2008 Doha modalities, they say.  And getting agreement on what was intended to be the essence of the Doha agreement should not be difficult – if the political momentum exists.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo is sympathetic and has called for a roadmap by next July showing how members can complete the round.  And some are extrapolating that completion of the DDA could happen by the end of next year.  New European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström said that during a visit to Geneva last week.

Already getting down to work are several long-idled Doha negotiating committees under direction from the Director General.

Mr. Azevêdo appears to be “betting the bank” – and what’s left of the WTO’s reputation along with his own reputation – on success.

But to get back to the “Doha is Dead” proponent.  It is simple reality, he said, adding that “the world has to get over it.”  Bilateral, regional and plurilateral agreements – even those based in Geneva – are working well.  He suggested that abandoning those approaches to global trade liberalization would be counterproductive.

Over the past half decade during the Doha “freeze,”  I have noticed during similar conferences, seminars and simple speeches in a variety of forums an underlying snigger that followed any mention of Doha.  In recent months that rumbling of skepticism has become more pronounced – turning into chuckles.  At the most recent agriculture conference, the grumbling transformed itself into audible laughter.

I don’t know how the Doha renewal effort will work out.  But when the grumbling and giggles turn into full-throated belly laughs, I’ll give in.  

Jim Berger