29 November 2005

Find the ‘last bridge’ urgently farm talks chairperson tells negotiators in pre-Hong Kong report

The agriculture negotiations have made “relatively rapid” progress since August, the talks’ chairperson, Ambassador Crawford Falconer, says in a report to the Trade Negotiations Committee circulated on 25 November 2005. But the major differences that have prevented agreement on “full modalities” in the forthcoming Hong Kong Ministerial Conference mean there is a “compelling urgency” to seize the moment and drive the process to a conclusion as rapidly as possible, he warns.

> The report to the Trade Negotiations Committee

The report has now become Annex A of the draft ministerial text circulated to members on 26 November. It is essentially a snapshot providing an insight into some of the bargaining that has taken place, particularly between the summer break and the last weeks before the ministerial conference. Ambassador Falconer says that members asked for a factual report on the state of play and that is what he has written. But, he goes on, he has not brushed differences under the carpet.

“We have made — particularly since August of this year — genuine and material progress,” he writes. “Indeed, it has come at a relatively rapid pace. It is also clear to me that it has been the product of a genuinely negotiating process. In other words, it has been a case of making proposals and counterproposals. That is why the matters covered in this report have an essentially conditional character.”

And major differences still remain, which should be settled urgently if the negotiations are to end on schedule. “As I see it, the reality is that we have yet to find that last bridge to agreement that we need to secure modalities,” the chairperson writes. “But it would be a grave error, in my view, to imagine that we can take much time to find that bridge. As Chair, I am convinced that we must maintain momentum. You don't close divergences by taking time off to have a cup of tea. If you do so, you will find that everyone has moved backwards in the meantime. That, it seems to me, is a profound risk to our process. I would like to believe that this report at least underlines to us that there is indeed something real and important still within our grasp and we ought not to risk losing it.”