EU under pressure to upgrade offer at WTO talks

14th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

14 December 2005, HONG KONG - The European Union on Wednesday came under intense pressure to upgrade its farm trade offer from World Trade Organization members - but key E.U. nation France said it would reject any such change.

14 December 2005

HONG KONG - The European Union on Wednesday came under intense pressure to upgrade its farm trade offer from World Trade Organization members - but key E.U. nation France said it would reject any such change.

As riot police and anti-globalization protesters clashed for a second consecutive day outside the Hong Kong Convention Centre, ministers from 149 WTO states struggled to make progress on a new deal to tear down global trade barriers.

"There are signs some movement is possible," said Bernd Pfaffenbach, Germany's deputy economics minister.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said talks had resulted in no major advances so far but ministers were trying hard to fashion deals on key issues. "We need to see progress soon," Rockwell warned.

The six-day WTO negotiating marathon - set to run till December 18 - is expected to result in a modest package of trade and aid concessions for the world's poorest nations.

E.U. trade chief Peter Mandelson said such measures would enhance the "credibility" of the Hong Kong meeting.

But agreement on the package - including zero-duty and quota-free access for exports from least developed states - still hinged on "intervention at the highest political level", said Rockwell.

Main disputes in Hong Kong, however, centre on trade in agriculture, with E.U. governments under rising pressure to improve their six-week-old concessions on farm trade.

In a strong warning shot to Mandelson - who negotiates on trade on behalf of the entire 25-nation bloc - French officials in Hong Kong rejected suggestions Europe was ready to cave in on agriculture.

"There is a sentiment that the E.U. is ready to modify its (farm) offer ... France has no intention of being flexible on the issue," French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde told reporters.

Lagarde said there were rumours that the E.U. was preparing a new package of farm concessions, including a deadline for eliminating costly farm export subsidies.

"France is certainly not softening its position," Lagarde warned. "We are absolutely firm, the E.U. is at the outer limits of what it can do (in agriculture)," she said.

E.U. officials denied Lagarde's accusations, saying Mandelson had not tabled any new proposals accepting an end-date for phasing out farm export subsidies.

Europe would not set a firm deadline on eliminating export subsidies unless there was a "parallel" move by the United States to end "abusive" food aid programmes and export credit schemes which hurt farming in poor countries, an E.U. official told DPA.

The E.U. has lambasted Washington for using its food aid programme to dump unwanted surpluses on world markets, a practice that Europeans claim is damaging farming in poor nations.

Brussels also wants tougher rules on state-run commodity cartels in leading farm-exporting nations like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Demands that the E.U. should table new concessions on farm imports and set a deadline for ending export support are expected to remain key negotiating issues over the coming days in Hong Kong.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Portman as well as Brazil and India have repeatedly insisted that European farm export subsidy schemes should end by 2010.

"Many countries would like to see an end-date on export subsidies agreed here in Hong Kong," said WTO spokesman Rockwell. But he cautioned there would be no deal on the issue "until all issues are resolved".

Seeking to deflect attention from its farm policies, E.U. officials slammed the U.S. for holding up agreement on a deal to help African cotton exporting nations.

"This is a hot issue," France's Lagarde insisted, adding that Washington's income support for domestic cotton producers amounted to unfair competition for poor African exporters of cotton.

Mandelson is also adamant that WTO action is urgently needed to slash tariffs on industrial goods. A focus on agriculture alone would not guarantee success in clinching a new global trade-liberalization deal, Mandelson warned Wednesday.

E.U. negotiators must be able to prove that the WTO talks were opening up new opportunities for European exporters and businesses, Mandelson underlined.

Discussions in Hong Kong are being held within the framework of the so-called Doha round of trade talks launched in Qatar four years ago.

WTO chief Lamy has said he wants the gathering in Hong Kong to make enough progress on key issues to clinch a final WTO trade- liberalization deal at the end of next year.

"Our objective is to sharpen the focus and to use Hong Kong as a platform for negotiations in the new year," said WTO spokesman Rockwell.


Subject: German news

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