French farmers ready to cry foul over trade talks

9th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) - From his turkey farm in northwestern France, 40-year-old Pierre-Yves Lozahic will be casting an anxious eye on next week's WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong.

PARIS, Dec 9 (AFP) - From his turkey farm in northwestern France, 40-year-old Pierre-Yves Lozahic will be casting an anxious eye on next week's WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong.

The fear is that the six-day gathering, December 13-18, could lead to the adoption next year of a global trade pact under the Doha Round of talks that would increase his vulnerability to foreign competition.

Lozahic's concerns are shared by the French government, which in the run-up to the meeting has made it clear it will not go along with a WTO deal that imposes deep cuts both in import tariffs and government agricultural subsidies.

Since the adoption of an earlier multilateral trade liberalization accord, worked out in Uruguay from 1986 to 1994, Lozahic has seen an erosion in the sales price for turkeys as cheaper priced birds from Brazil and Thailand entered the market.

Agriculture officials in Brittany, where Lozahic has raised turkeys since 1989, have said poultry production in the department fell by 27 percent from 1998 to 2004.

They have warned that any additional reduction in import tariffs could lead to a flood of foreign products, further dampening earnings prospects for French turkey farmers.

Lozahic, in addition, also claims there are health issues at stake.

"In France we have production standards to respect that these countries (Brazil and Thailand) don't have," he said. "If we stopped production here tomorrow, what would the consumer eat? Imported chickens raised without any safety standards whatsoever?"

In the past several months, as the major powers in the World Trade Organization have put forward trade-opening offers to be debated in Hong Kong, France has dug in its heels.

French officials have repeatedly chided the European Commission, which will negotiate for France, for having exceeded its mandate in proposing what Paris sees as overly generous reductions in customs tariffs and subsidies.

And President Jacques Chirac has bluntly warned that France, the largest recipient of European Union farm aid and determined to preserve the vitality of its rural communities, will oppose any framework deal in Hong Kong that gives too much away in the agriculture sector.

While France by itself would be unable to block an agreement in Hong Kong, since a ministerial declaration emerging from the meeting would not be a legally binding document, its position seems certain to complicate the work of chief EU trade negotiator Peter Mandelson.

Mandelson in fact is under fire not only from France but from just about everyone else in the 148-member WTO -- developing countries as well as major food importers and exporters in the industrialized world -- on grounds that his latest offers on agriculture are insufficient.

The EU commission has offered a range of tariff cuts between 35 and 60 percent, with the average EU agriculture duty cut by about half, from 22.8 to 12.2 percent.

The United States is pressing for reductions of 55 to 90 percent. But Mandelson has said he has no plans to make a further offer on agriculture.

Both Mandelson and France are nonetheless united in demanding that in exchange for concessions in farm trade, emerging market countries in particular allow greater access for EU industrial products and services.

And they are adamant in rejecting suggestions that their position on agriculture is at variance with their commitment to development and alleviating poverty.

Developing nations have been pressing both the EU and the United States to reduce tariffs and subsidies, arguing that until they do, farmers in poor countries will be unable to compete fairly on world markets and will remain impoverished.

In a recent comment, Patrick Messerlin, a professor at the Institute for Political Science in Paris, said France was caught in a "double contradiction."

"Outside the country, we say we support the poor, yet we don't pursue policies that would help them the most."

EU officials point out that the European Union is the world's leading provider of development aid and already offers duty-free access to a range of products from the world's poorest countries.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy in a recent column appearing in the International Herald Tribune said the EU already takes in 85 percent of agriculture exports from the poorest nations.

Cutting import tariffs across the board, he argued, would give the advantage to powerful emerging market exporters such as Brazil and Argentina at the expense of the most impoverished nations.

"A sudden lowering of European barriers will put paid to the possibility of self-sufficiency for the poorest countries," he maintained.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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