EU under pressure over slack pace of WTO talks

20th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

GENEVA, Oct 20 (AFP) - The European Union was caught in a crossfire at WTO trade talks here Thursday between a US report that it was preparing new proposals to cut farm import duties and French insistence that such moves are premature.

GENEVA, Oct 20 (AFP) - The European Union was caught in a crossfire at WTO trade talks here Thursday between a US report that it was preparing new proposals to cut farm import duties and French insistence that such moves are premature.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson declined comment on a statement by US counterpart Rob Portman that the European Union had undertaken to come forward with a fresh offer on farm trade.

But Mandelson did tell journalists that time was tight ahead of a key WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December, when a long-overdue multilateral deal on reducing global trade barriers is to be approved.

"We need a breakthrough in the next fortnight in all areas or we will be scaling down our ambition for Hong Kong," he warned.

Otherwise, Mandelson was tight-lipped following meetings between leading members of the World Trade Organization here and shortly after France had sought to limit his freedom of manoeuvre.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin insisted in Paris that Mandelson should not make new proposals on trade in farm goods until it was clear his negotiating stance was in line with guidelines given by EU members and with the EU's Common Agriculture Policy.

Mandelson has dismissed suggestions, mainly from France, that he is making undue concessions and on Tuesday, he won broad backing from other EU governments.

In Brussels Thursday European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso insisted that EU executive panel, which represents the 25-member EU in talks here, "has to do its work and it cannot be asked not to negotiate.

"The commission cannot be asked not to fulfil the mandate that it has received from member states and ... we also cannot ask Europe to hold up the multilateral negotiations," Barroso said.

But he added: "There will be not be any proposal from the commission which would go against its mandate."

Earlier in Geneva, Portman said the European Union had undertaken to come forward within a week with a new market-opening offer. "That was the consensus in the group (meeting) last night (Wednesday), that that would happen within a week from yesterday."

But Mandelson, who had earlier hinted there was room for "flexibility" on the farm issue, had no comment after a meeting with Portman and counterparts from Australia, Brazil and India.

Portman told journalists: "The responsibility at this point rests squarely with the European Union and their ability to come forward with a proposal that is meaningful and credible.

"I hope it's not just any proposal. I hope it's a proposal that reflects a high level of ambition." Without that, there could be a "real problem" in Hong Kong, he added.

The five parties, including the EU, having met on Wednesday, held broader-based talks on Thursday with ministers for trade and agriculture from Argentina, Canada, China, New Zealand, Japan and Switzerland.

Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson later summed up the disappointment: "We came here today hoping to see an ambitious proposal from the EU. We didn't."

WTO members have faced four rocky years since ministers agreed to launch a new round of global trade liberalization negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha.

Developing countries are pressing rich nations for greater access to their markets and to scrap government subsidies that critics say help farmers in wealthy countries undercut their poorer competitors.

The United States and the EU, long reluctant to make major concessions, have come forward in the past week with new proposals to reduce subsidies and to lower tariff barriers on farm goods.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile, noting that the EU groups some of the world's richest countries, said they must do more.

"We can only encourage them to shoulder the significant responsibility they carry in this organisation," he said.

US Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns also criticised Brussels. "The EU just isn't in the debate yet," he said.

Mandelson has dismissed suggestions, mainly from France, that he is making undue concessions and on Tuesday, he won broad backing from other EU governments.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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