Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tsutomu Takebe has agreed with European Union (E.U.) partners that agriculture in a new round of trade liberalisation talks under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should be treated based on existing WTO rules, Japanese officials said, Reuters reports.
Takebe, on a tour of European countries, met with E.U. Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fishler and E.U. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy in Brussels Friday to garner support for Tokyo's position on agriculture ahead of the next ministerial meeting of the WTO in Doha, Qatar, due to take place November 9-13.
''Both commissioners agreed with Takebe that agriculture talks in a new round should be based on Article 20 of the WTO agriculture accord'' agreed to in 1993 under the Uruguay Round international trade pact to reduce trade barriers, one of the officials told reporters.
The provision stipulates agriculture talks will be initiated, taking into account ''non-trade concerns'' such as the multifunctional aspect of agriculture as well as establishing a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system.
According to the officials, Lamy regarded the clause as ''balanced'' in its treatment of agriculture, which could be the biggest obstacle for launching a new round because positions among WTO members are far apart.
Japan, one of the strongest advocates of non-trade concerns, asserts that the multifunctional role of agriculture, which includes its contribution to sustainable development and the protection of the environment, should be recognised. The E.U. more or less shares the view.
The Cairns Group, led by Australia and the United States, wants far-reaching liberalisation of the farm sector, saying the article should be taken into account. They warn that the multifunctional role could be used as a ''cloak for protectionism''.
The 18-member agricultural exporting countries, joined by the U.S., held a two-day meeting earlier this week in Uruguay and reaffirmed their determination to demand agriculture reform, signaling an uncompromising stance particularly on the issue of export subsidies. Takebe told the E.U. partners that ''WTO members should not change the substance in agriculture talks'' because they kicked off negotiations for the sensitive agenda in March 2000 based on the existing provision of the Agreement on Agriculture of the Uruguay Round Pact.
The agreement at the end of the last round of trade talks in December 1993 stipulated negotiations on agriculture and services must start before the end of January 2000, but it was delayed for some time due to the collapse of the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle in December 1999.