US, France back to squabbling over WTO terms

26th May 2006, Comments 0 comments

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - The United States Thursday attacked a hard-line position taken by French President Jacques Chirac on the WTO's deeply troubled campaign to free up world trade.

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2006 (AFP) - The United States Thursday attacked a hard-line position taken by French President Jacques Chirac on the WTO's deeply troubled campaign to free up world trade.

US officials said remarks made by Chirac during a visit to Brazil were unhelpful to the World Trade Organisation's uphill battle to forge a global deal this year.

The European Union has given conflicting signals in recent days on its willingness to make further concessions on the WTO's "Doha" round, said Jason Hafemeister, the US Trade Representative's chief WTO negotiator.

But for Chirac to argue that the EU has done everything it can on agricultural trade "would be a problem, as that's not going to be adequate" to unblock the Doha round, he told reporters.

The EU has been cast as the villain in the WTO talks due to its refusal to go further in cutting the generous subsidies it gives to its farmers.

Big developing countries such as Brazil and India, however, are also under pressure from the EU and United States to bring down their commercial barriers in return for farming reform in the rich blocs.

The French leader, the EU's most ardent defender of the farming lobby, said after talks with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that the 25-nation bloc could go no further without concessions from others.

Europe "is not in a position to take a single step further" on agricultural reform when others "haven't made a single step towards Europe on industry and services", Chirac told a joint news conference in Brasilia with Lula.

Chirac also called on Brazil to join with Europe "to levy friendly pressure on the Americans to make them more reasonable" over the "excessive" export support given to US farmers.

"In reality it is the United States that holds the key to the problem. The key is neither in Europe, nor in Brazil, nor in emerging countries," he said.

The United States, however, says it has made a "bold" proposal on agriculture that exceeded its Doha requirements and is willing to go still further.

The offer contrasts with what Hafemeister called the "take-it-or-leave-it stance" of the EU on agriculture, and the "puny" cuts to industrial tariffs offered by some developing countries.

At talks in Paris this week, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson signalled that the bloc would be prepared to improve its offer on farm products if others are willing to cede ground.

Hafemeister argued that no formal or informal proposals had been presented in Paris.

"Just a minor move at the last minute is not going to make it," he added. "Until we see real serious proposals from other countries, there's a big void in the negotiations here."

US officials say that Crawford Falconer, New Zealand's WTO ambassador who is chairing the agricultural talks in Geneva, is preparing to submit new outlines of a deal around mid-June.

But that will leave precious little time to sign, seal and deliver a global package to dismantle world trade barriers by the end of the year.

The US government would then have just months to get a WTO deal through Congress before it loses its 'fast-track' trading authority at the start of July 2007.

Once the administration's 'Trade Promotion Authority' expires, Congress will regain the right to amend any trade agreement. At present, US lawmakers can only give a straight 'yes' or 'no' vote to an agreement.

Without a serious effort this summer, "you just start running out of time", Hafemeister said.

"It's true that Europe really is going to have to set the standard. We can't expect developing countries to cut their tariffs deeper than the European Union. That's why everybody is focussed on Europe," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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