France launches fresh attack on EU's WTO tactics

30th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Jan 29, 2007 (AFP) - France launched a fresh attack Monday on the European Commission's tactics in tough WTO talks, but Brussels fired back that it had not overstepped its negotiating mandate.

BRUSSELS, Jan 29, 2007 (AFP) - France launched a fresh attack Monday on the European Commission's tactics in tough WTO talks, but Brussels fired back that it had not overstepped its negotiating mandate.

Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau laid into EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson for using "unacceptable working methods" during weekend efforts to revive stalled World Trade Organisation talks in Davos, Switzerland.

France, Europe's biggest agriculture power, deeply opposes offering bigger concessions in the talks than proposals the European Commission already put on the table in October 2005.

Speaking in Brussels to journalists on the sidelines of a meeting with counterparts, Bussereau said Mandelson had "circulated texts" and made confidential information "public or semi-public" without informing member states during the talks in the Swiss ski resort.

"It's a totally unacceptable working method," the French minister added. "He conducted himself in an agitated manner to say the least."

After the meeting of EU farm ministers, European Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said: "There have been lots of rumours going around but I must say that there have been no figures on the table."

The European Commission proposed in October 2005 to reduce average EU tariffs on agricultural products by 39 percent, although Mandelson has said the EU could go father if its moves were matched by the United States.

France resisted the 39 percent cut when Mandelson first proposed it and Bussereau said that "any other offer is outside the mandate" of the European Commission to negotiate on member states' behalf.

Rallying to Mandelson's defence, Fischer Boel said that there was room to make bigger concessions under the commission's negotiating mandate, saying "we have flexibility on the October 2005 offer."

"Peter Mandelson and myself are always discussing and we are of the clear opinion that we have never been outside the mandate in the discussions we've had up to now," she said.

Bussereau denied that France's hardline was the result of political posturing ahead of a spring presidential election.

"We are not defending this position because we are in a pre-electoral period, but because we always defend it," he said, adding that France is the biggest European agricultural power and the second biggest farm product exporter in the world and that "14 percent of French workers depend on the agricultural sector."

After WTO talks ground to a halt in July, negotiations are entering a crucial make-or-break stage with many participants forecasting that a breakthrough is needed within the next couple of months because the US administration's trade negotiating powers expire afterwards.

"As far as I can see we have a small window of opportunity and I would think that in the next two months it would be crucial to agree on a breakthrough," Fischer Boel said, adding that it would take another six months to hammer out the details.

The Doha round WTO negotiations was launched by the global trade body's members in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 with the aim of reducing trade barriers for the benefit of poor countries.

The EU and United States have been unable to agree on the size of cuts to subsidies and tariffs protecting their farm industries, while rich and poor countries are at loggerheads over trade in industrial goods and services.

Developed countries are demanding developing counties reduce tariffs on industrial goods and services in exchange for more open markets for farm products.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, EU  

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