First day of WTO talks fail

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EU trade chief Peter Mandelson’s raise-average tariff cuts proposal was termed as nothing new and propaganda.

22 July 2008

GENEVA - The European Union's top trade negotiator sought to spur progress at deadlocked trade talks Monday but found his initiative branded "propaganda" and described by one EU colleague as "nothing new".

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, on the first day of talks aimed at salvaging a multilateral market opening deal, said the EU was prepared to increase its average tariff cuts on farm produce from 54 percent to 60 percent.

"This is a very considerable advance and it is a very substantial improvement and should inject important momentum into discussions in Geneva this week," his spokesman, Peter Power, told journalists.

He was speaking as ministers from 35 countries launched a fresh bid to get the nearly seven-year-old Doha round of trade liberalisation talks off dead centre.

Developing countries Brazil, India and Indonesia poured cold water on the proposals and even Mandelson's fellow EU commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel, who holds the agriculture dossier, when asked to comment, said: "It's nothing new."

French Trade Minister Anne-Marie Idrac said: "Was there new progress, new percentages? The answer is no. Peter Mandelson this morning had clarified... what technical discussions have come up with -- nothing more, nothing less."

The French minister further explained that the difference between the two figures was whether tropical products were included in the tariff cut calculations or not.

Meanwhile French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier maintained that the EU was not budging on its position on agricultural trade.

"Anyway, no state member of the EU would be ready to accept or to support a new offer on this question," he said.

Earlier, Roberto Azevedo, one of Brazil's leading negotiators, had said the number was a "consequence of the different numbers on which the EU had already agreed on among

"If they are proposing to cut, that's because they have the margin to do so," he added then.

Another member of the Brazilian delegation dismissed the offer by EU trade chief Peter Mandelson as mere "propaganda."

Proposals drawn up by the World Trade Organisation's chief agricultural negotiator, New Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer, envisage sweeping subsidy cuts by rich Western countries, which have often been accused by developing nations of undermining free trade and pushing their farmers into penury.

The biggest subsidisers would make the biggest cuts, notably the EU, which would have to slash its payments to farmers by between 75 and 85 percent.

Reacting to the Mandelson's offer on tariffs, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu said: "There's nothing new in the offer he made today, we heard this offer before."

Even before the latest 60 percent proposal was made, Mandelson had described the 54 percent cut as "painful" but a step Brussels was prepared to make to ensure a global trade deal.

Mandelson has been under intense pressure from EU member states - not least France which currently holds the EU presidency - to avoid giving too much ground on trade in agriculture.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already accused Mandelson of overstepping his mandate and offering too much on agriculture subsidies, while Irish Trade Minister John McGuinness said last week that the European Commission has gone "way too far" in its proposals.

McGuinness stressed that the possibility that Ireland would veto a deal was an "option that is there."

On Monday, Irish Farmers' Association officer Jer Bergin told AFP they opposed plans to
give up tariffs that would mean increased access to European markets for "nothing in return" from the other negotiating blocs.

"President Sarkozy has said that the current proposals would reduce European agricultural production by over 20 percent and that's absolutely ridiculous in the current world situation.

"The best outcome (of the WTO talks) for us is for it to fail," he said.

In a formal statement at the opening of talks at the WTO headquarters this morning, Mandelson said the EU was looking for a 'quid pro quo' approach and was not prepared to leave empty-handed.

"We are prepared to offer more than others in this round, but everyone must understand that we need something in return," he said.

Europe is seeking guarantees of progress in fields such as industrial tariffs, the services sector and an extension of "geographical indications" to cover more food products such as certain types of cheese.

[AFP / Expatica]

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