WTO heading for failure: US trade representative

21st October 2005, Comments 0 comments

GENEVA, Oct 21 (AFP) - World Trade Organization talks were in turmoil here on Friday over French sniping, warnings of breakdown and a tough line from developing countries in gathering gloom about a December deadline.

GENEVA, Oct 21 (AFP) - World Trade Organization talks were in turmoil here on Friday over French sniping, warnings of breakdown and a tough line from developing countries in gathering gloom about a December deadline.

Developing countries joined their voices to a warning by US Trade Representative Rob Portman that the WTO was heading for another deeply embarrassing failure following the collapse of high-profile meetings in Cancun in 2003 and Seattle in 1999.

WTO director general Pascal Lamy added to the note of urgency on Friday, saying both the United States and the EU had to improve their trade-opening proposals, particularly to reduce support for agriculture.

Lamy said: "It is not the United States which is pushing Europe in one direction or another, but all developing countries which are pushing the United States and Europe to open their markets a little and to cease subsidising exports, for example."

The 79 countries in the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group said they "will not be able to join the consensus" at the Hong Kong summit from December 13 to 18 if their interests were sidelined.

The ACP countries, which have preferential trade deals with the 25-nation EU, are worried that the trend of negotiations so far might turn out to be damaging to their interests.

Earlier Portman had warned: "We are risking another Cancun or another Seattle if we don't move quickly...it is very urgent that the EU put forward a proposal."

But the EU, which has also warned that delay could scale down the Hong Kong meeting, is under notice from France to make no more concessions, even though the United States says the EU has undertaken to do so next week.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has said that France had told him on Thursday to cease discussing agriculture, the central obstacle.

An analyst with consultancy Global Insights, Rachna Uppal, said that "the explicit opposition of France has cast a shadow over the bloc's ability to present a united front at the WTO summit in December."

French ministers have signalled several times this week that they are concerned the European Commission is set to make undue concessions in the talks in Geneva.

Although France has taken the lead in reining in Mandelson, 12 other EU countries, including Spain and Ireland, also raised concerns earlier this month about potential EU concessions in the farm talks.

WTO members make decisions by consensus, not majority votes, so finding a compromise within the EU is a key to success in Hong Kong.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has insisted that the EU executive panel must have leeway to negotiate, having a mandate to do so from member states, but that it would not go beyond its brief.

Mandelson proposed tariff cuts last week after the United States came forward with a surprise plan of its own.

But Australia, Brazil and the United States have demanded more, saying this is the only way to energise the mired talks among all 148 nations in the World Trade Organization.

The Hong Kong summit is meant to yield the outlines of a trade deal cutting tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to global commerce in farm products, industrial goods and services, such as banking.

The Doha Round, named for the Qatari capital where the latest round of talks was launched in late 2001, also aims to use trade to help developing countries.

Major developing nations -- such as Brazil and India that are grouped in the powerful G20 lobby -- are resisting calls from rich countries to step up talks on services and industrial goods until the farm issue is settled.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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