(Sept. 20) There is increasing apprehension about just how strong an agriculture deal the U.S. can negotiate in the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks, according to one Washington, D.C., lobbyist.

The lobbyist, who declined to be identified, said there is some concern that progress on an agricultural agreement could be slow in coming because the U.S. is still the only country that has a proposal on the table that addresses the “three pillars” of market access, domestic subsidies and export subsidies.

Some of the major countries have not issued a proposal yet, even though final negotiations are scheduled for March of next year.

The lobbyist said U.S. trade officials have said Japan has continued a protectionist tone, and China has argued it should not have to cut tariffs further since it already made tariff cuts to get into the WTO.

Meanwhile, Chuck Bertsch, deputy director for multinational trade negotiations for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, said the meetings that set the agenda for the Doha round of the WTO talks included an agreement to work on the three main pillars of market access, domestic support and export competition.

Additionally, the WTO talks were expected to take into account the concerns of developing countries and nontrade concerns — another term for multifunctionality.

Europe recently has demanded assurances that the issue of geographic indicators would be addressed in any WTO agreement before it agree to any trade liberalization. For example, champagne from California could not be called champagne because the term refers to wine grown in Champagne, France.

One concern among U.S. agriculture leaders is that the U.S. will allow Japan and Europe to get away with “multifunctionality” subsidies that will continue to prop up inefficient producers and serve to protect those markets.

Multifunctionality — also called nontrade issues — refers to the value of farms to a society, beyond the issue of agricultural production.

Bertsch said there have been no concrete proposals from the EU or Japan on issues like animal welfare, multifunctionality or food safety. The U.S. has the only comprehensive proposal in the WTO agriculture negotiations, he said.

The Doha Round of the WTO negotiations are expected to be concluded by late 2004, and the chairman of the agriculture negotiations is slated to write a paper on the progress of negotiations by the end of December.

The U.S. seems willing to allow some latitude for countries to provide payments to growers to support the environment or the role of agriculture in society.

At a press conference in July, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman responded to a question about the issue from a member of the Japanese press.

“As I have stated during these discussions, we believe that agriculture is multifunctional — has many purposes — but that you can address those multifunctional purposes in the context of the green box because the green box allows you to provide for environmental payments, for example, for world development programs, for many of the issues that are talked about as multifunctional are very consistent with the kinds of things that are allowed in the green box,” she said.

Green box refers to aid to farmers that assists them in ways that don’t distort trade — typically meaning the aid is not tied to production.

Often, green box payments are provided to help farmers preserve the environment or comply with government regulations.