(Dec. 20) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The week before he headed to Hong Kong for the Dec. 13-18 World Trade Organization Ministerial talks, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns admitted that expectations were lowered.

After a riot-plagued attempt to start global trade talks in Seattle in 1999, negotiations for the Doha Development Agenda of the World Trade Organization began in 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

In July 2004, WTO members reached agreement on a framework to establish formulas and rules for implementing reforms in agriculture.

“Some months ago, we thought that we would be able to approve the modalities for agreements — the overall framework — and that ministers could give a thumbs up or thumbs down (in Hong Kong),” Johanns said Dec. 7.

There is no chance of news coming out of Hong Kong in mid-December, Johanns said.

Trade talks have hung up, primarily on differences between the U.S. and the European Union.

“Europe has not met our ambitious proposal and we are not alone in that assessment,” he said. Other countries underwhelmed with the EU’s market access proposals include Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, he said.

A U.S. proposal of Oct. 10 suggests that developed countries cut their agricultural tariffs from 55% to 90%, and that a tariff cap of 75% be adopted.

The U.S. proposal also would limit tariff lines protected by “sensitive product” treatment to 1% of total tariff lines.

The U.S. plan also calls for an elimination of export subsidies and proposes a 53% decline in domestic support for the U.S. and a 75% reduction for Europe.

A November position paper put forward by the European Union offers a 45% reduction in the average EU agricultural tariffs and a 70% cut in trade-distorting agricultural subsidies.

Johanns noted that the EU has stated it should be able to protect 8% of its tariff lines, compared to 1% protected under the U.S. plan.

“There are some fundamental issues (with Europe),” he said. “It is not just our view, but other countries that have an interest in opening markets are saying the same thing as we are.”