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WTO farm deal a success, EU hails


Europe's farm chief Franz Fischler last week defended the deal hammered out by trade ministers in Doha to launch a new global trade round, saying it protected the bloc's key agricultural interests.

Tough bargaining at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks led to the European Union (EU) accepting a final text saying the new round would tackle export subsidies with a view to phasing them out - wording it had previously argued went too far.

However, in the final stages it won the addition of a phrase saying this would not pre-judge the outcome of the negotiations, which was enough to bring France in particular on board.

"In the last minutes of the game we turned our game around and achieved a good result for the EU," Fischler said.

"It's a magnificent success for the European Commission, which fought from the start for a new round," he told a press conference in Brussels.

The EU faced six days of tough opposition from the United States and the Cairns Group - which includes New Zealand and Australia - who argued it must negotiate the full abolition of its export subsidies, a key part of the 40-billion-euro a year Common Agricultural Policy.

But Fischler said the EU stuck to its negotiating mandate.

"Farming moved from being a deal-breaker to deal-maker. We kept our promises that we would be constructive in Doha...our tactic was to play a counter-offensive game and that's what we did," he said.

Fischler said the WTO talks, due to start next year, were expected to last three years, but that did not mean they would influence the ongoing reform of the CAP, and in particular a so-called "mid-term review" of policy slated for next year.

"It is us who will decide the mid-term review...the Cairns Group or any other groups will not force anything on us. That's the decisive point. That was what it was all about."

"That is the difference between the text as it was and the text as it is," Fischler said.

However, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said on Wednesday that Brussels had not won any significant concessions through the last-minute addition of the phrase.

"The slight addition really had no impact on the meaning at all," she told reporters just after the meeting finished.

However, she agreed that "in no negotiation do you pre-judge the outcome".

Fischler said that even if the negotiations lasted three years, there would be an "implementation phase" after that, and so anything agreed at WTO level would not necessarily take effect until after 2005.

The provisions of the last major CAP reform, the Agenda 2000 deal agreed in 1999, were designed to last until 2006, but they also include the possibility for a review in 2002-2003.

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