France angered by EU offer to cut farm tariffs

28th October 2005, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, Oct 28 (AFP) - The European Commission offered on Friday its steepest-ever cuts in agricultural tariffs to try to break a deadlock in world trade talks, but France appeared ready to veto the proposals.

BRUSSELS, Oct 28 (AFP) - The European Commission offered on Friday its steepest-ever cuts in agricultural tariffs to try to break a deadlock in world trade talks, but France appeared ready to veto the proposals.

The EU's executive said it would be prepared to cut the bloc's highest farm tariffs by 60 percent and the lower tariffs by 35-60 percent, almost halving the overall tariff rate from 23.0 percent to 12.0 percent.

"It is a substantial, credible and comprehensive offer," trade commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters in Brussels. "The cuts are deep and real. This will drive down our tariffs across the board."

But he warned: "This is Europe's bottom line."

The offer was conditional on its main negotiating partners -- the United States, Brazil, India and Australia -- responding constructively, notably on industrial goods, services and development, the commission said.

The parties are struggling to reach a deal on the all-important agriculture dossier in the Doha round of trade liberalisation talks in time for a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Hong Kong from December 13-18.

In Geneva, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told AFP: "We have no comment on the offer at this time. We await further developments."

WTO officials have warned that the talks are close to breaking point and that the EU must quickly resolve its bitter internal rift over farm subsidies or convince its trading partners to reduce their own demands on agriculture.

A deal in Hong Kong does not require unanimous WTO backing, but opposition by France could deal a potentially devastating blow to the round, aimed at benefiting poorer countries and scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of 2006.

On Thursday, French President Jacques Chirac had repeated France's limit.

"We have a clear and simple position which is the full respect of the Common Agriculture Policy as it was modified in 2003," he said. "It's out of the question for us to make a further step. That's our red line."

France regards agriculture as a matter of vital national interest and such remarks implicitly threaten use of the French veto in the EU if the proposals are not satisfactory to it.

Mandelson said he believed France had already raised objections during talks between representatives from the bloc's 25 member states earlier on Friday.

"There was a suggestion by France, I gather, that the proposals that we're making are outside the commission's negotiating mandate," he said. "It's a matter for France obviously to make that claim and to sustain it."

Anticipating the conflict, the commission also noted that the offer was at the upper limit of its mandate, but remained within it.

"We remain doubtful that the offer is compatible with the mandate," a French diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, but added that the offer "is worth studying carefully."

Mandelson urged the EU's partners to respond in kind before December.

"It is imperative that we get the negotiations on trade and industrial goods restarted. The outcome of the Doha round must be balanced," he said.

"The US must act on its trade-distorting food aid and export credits, and Australia, Canada and New Zealand, must discipline their state trading enterprises to match Europe's elimination of export subsidies."

"There are now 45 days until the Hong Kong ministerial. We cannot waste a single one of them," he said. "The next two weeks will test our partners, just as the last two weeks have tested Europe."

He affirmed the EU was not caving into demands that it improve its offer.

"We will not simply meet the demands of those who have the loudest voices, nor will we take risks neither with our own partners' livelihoods, or those in the developing world," he said.

"This is Europe's bottom line. It comes with important conditions, to get those other parts of the agricultural agenda and the rest of the Doha negotiations moving again."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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