France says it has reined in EU trade negotiator

19th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 19 (AFP) - The European Commission retains freedom of manoeuvre in negotiating over agriculture at the World Trade Organization but "under the control" of EU member states, French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau said after a cabinet meeting here on Wednesday.

PARIS, Oct 19 (AFP) - The European Commission retains freedom of manoeuvre in negotiating over agriculture at the World Trade Organization but "under the control" of EU member states, French agriculture minister Dominique Bussereau said after a cabinet meeting here on Wednesday.

France called a special meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday to discuss a proposal to force EU Trade Commissioner Mandelson to answer to a group of technical experts before making further concessions on agriculture during talks at the WTO.

"We had a large number of countries that gave us their support yesterday and what I retain (from the meeting) is that the commission is not able to negotiate in the same way as before," Bussereau told reporters here.

Bussereau said that the commission had been reined in and that Mandelson would henceforth negotiate "under the control" of member states.

Paris called the meeting on Tuesday after accusing Mandelson of overstepping his brief when he recently proposed deep cuts in EU farm subsidies as part of WTO negotiations.

After the break up of talks, British foreign secretary Jack Straw said that France's proposal had been rejected, adding: "No negotiation is ever possible if you have to negotiate not only with the people in the room but also with some other committee in permanent session."

Member states did agree to the creation of a panel of experts to follow Mandelson's moves, but the trade commissioner will not have to consult them before negotiations.

Bussereau said that Mandelson was still at liberty to negotiate on behalf of the EU, but "now there is a technical panel that oversees and watches what he does".

Bussereau said that this amounted to "a very strong political message from the ministers" who wanted to be kept informed. "We agree that the commission should continue to negotiate but under the control of the council (of ministers)," he said.

Trading nations are facing mounting pressure as they try to agree on at least the framework of a multilateral deal in time for a WTO ministerial session December 13-18 in Hong Kong.

Agriculture is in the spotlight as developing countries press rich nations for greater access to their markets and to end government subsidies to farmers that critics say help farmers in wealthy countries undercut their poorer competitors.

US trade representative Rob Portman will host the crunch talks at Washington's mission to the WTO, meeting with his EU counterpart Mandelson, Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, and the Indian and Australian trade ministers, respectively Kamal Nath and Mark Vaile.

"We don't know how long it will last," said a diplomat. "It could go all night."

More discussions are expected Thursday between the five parties and other WTO members including Canada, China and Japan.

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

But they remain divided on how far such cuts should go and at what pace.

WTO members are trying to settle at least two-thirds of their differences in time for Hong Kong and want above all to avoid a repeat of their last, failed summit in Cancun, Mexico in 2003.

That conference collapsed as rich and poor countries faced off over farm trade as well as commerce in services, such as banking and insurance, and it took a year to start healing the rift.

On Tuesday, WTO director general Pascal Lamy told European lawmakers that the EU must demonstrate "flexibility" on tariffs because the United States had shown movement on farm subsidies.

The EU and other rich nations have also been pushing developing countries to make market-opening concessions on industrial goods and services in exchange for steps to free up agricultural trade.

"It is essential to make progress in all these areas," said Fabian Delcros, spokesman for the EU delegation at the WTO.

"You can't move forward by taking the talks slice by slice," Delcros told AFP.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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