Formulas and flexibility in trade negotiations : sensitive agricultural products in the WTO's Doha agenda
Many trade negotiations involve large cuts in high tariffs, with flexibilities allowing much smaller cuts for an agreed number of politically-sensitive products. The effects of these flexibilities on market access opportunities are difficult to predict, creating particular problems for developing countries in assessing whether to support a proposed agreement. Some widely-used ad hoc approaches to identifying likely sensitive products -- such as the highest-bound-tariff rule -- suggest that the impacts of a limited number of such exceptions on average tariffs and on market access are likely to be minor. This paper uses a rigorous specification based on the apparent objectives of policy makers in setting the pre-negotiation tariff. Applying this approach with detailed data allows the authors to assess the implications of sensitive-product provisions for average agricultural tariffs, economic welfare, and market access under the Doha negotiations. The authors conclude that highest-tariff rules are likely to seriously underestimate the impacts on average tariffs, and that treating even 2 percent of tariff lines as sensitive is likely to have a sharply adverse impact on economic welfare. The impacts on market access are also adverse, but much smaller, perhaps reflecting the mercantilist focus of the negotiating process.
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