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Reporters Memo: Next Week’s Bizarre WTO Mini Ministerial

A Mandateless Bush Dangles U.S. Agriculture Offers Contradicting U.S. Farm Bill To World Negotiators Who Would Rather Wait for Next President

By Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

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Next week’s WTO mini-ministerial will go down as one of the oddest in trade negotiating history no matter the outcome. Emperor Bush has no clothes, um, trade authority, yet acts as if he can commit the United States to agriculture offers that conflict with the Farm Bill supported by 500 U.S. farm interests and an overwhelming supermajority of Congress. In Geneva, the Bush administration reiterated its support for negotiating texts, while in Washington this week the largest U.S. agriculture and manufacturing groups – Republican constituencies that provide the base of support for trade deals – attacked the proposals as unacceptable. U.S. public opinion against more-of-the-same trade policy increases with each poll. Now even Republican voters believe our trade policy is bad for the U.S. economy by a 2-to-1 margin, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Negotiators from various key countries do not want to deal with a lame-duck president whose representations they do not trust, and have serious concerns about the latest negotiating texts, which face roiling opposition – and, in some instances, mass protests – at home. Yet they march zombie-like toward the mini-ministerial meeting to avoid being blamed if the ministerial-thatshould-never-have-been-scheduled “fails.” And, World Trade Organization (WTO) spinmeisters are simultaneously playing down expectations and hyping as earth-shattering a meeting limited to trying to resolve negotiating modalities due in 2003 for two of at least six Doha-Round-derailing issues.

First, many WTO countries are extremely reluctant to make any new concessions because they worry that the Bush administration is making representations that are not politically viable domestically so as to “win” a deal next week that the new U.S. president, responsible for actually passing any Doha deal, will repudiate. President Bush is desperate to repair his woeful legacy by being able to get credit for some Doha breakthrough. Yet he is simultaneously 100 percent free of responsibility to ensure Congress could pass such a deal. Many countries realize that the political and legal reality is that the United States will be only in a position to engage honestly in Doha Round talks after the new president arrives.