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Lamy urges commitment in global agriculture talks

By Anthony Fletcher , 09-Feb-2006

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy has urged countries to intensify negotiations in order to conclude the current round of agricultural trade talks - but will they listen?

In a statement to the trade negotiations committee (TNC) this week, he noted the "very detailed timelines" in the Hong Kong Declaration and urged negotiators to "make good on what was agreed".

"The situation had not evolved significantly since July, when the General Council renewed the mandate given to the Director-General in the July 2004 Decision," he said.

 

But whether the leading nations take notice is another matter. Last minute negotiations at the World Trade Organisation's Hong Kong Ministerial in December, which discussed the breaking down of global trade barriers to agricultural products, resulted in an interim agreement that means negotiators have to return to the bargaining table this year.

 

The result was viewed as modest because it avoided earlier outright failures, though it did not secure any major breakthrough. But both the EU and the US now seem locked in a war of words, blaming each others lack of commitment for the slow progress being made.

 

This week for example, the EU attacked the US for "seriously twisting the truth about the value of the European Unions agricultural market access offer in the Doha Round", and claimed that "the cuts proposed by the EU offer are deeper than the average cuts agreed in the Uruguay Round."

 

It is this atmosphere of ill feeling that Lamy has attempted to dispel.

 

"For the negotiations to achieve real progress over the next weeks, the negotiations must be intensified," he said. "Even a quick look at the Hong Kong Ministerial Declaration illustrates the size of the task ahead of us."

 

The declaration includes a number of firm deadlines. Lamy said that for these deadlines to be met, the work must continue to be integrated in a coherent way, across both the subjects and the different levels of negotiation.

 

"If you are to reach agreement on schedule, it is essential for you to intensify your contacts with other delegations and with your capitals, to move us towards the elements we will need to conclude this Round at the end of the year," he said.

 

"In particular, it is now urgently necessary to move to negotiating elements of texts and to flesh out discussions on generally applicable provisions and formulae with bilateral consideration of concrete and specific trade effects. I strongly encourage participants to step up this work."

 

With the original 1 January 2005 deadline long gone, ministers are fixed on a timetable that aims to finish the negotiations by the end of the year. But, as Lamy points out, this will only be achieved if participants step up their commitment.