EU points finger for failure of WTO negotiations

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

EU claims that the stalling Doha round of negotiations in not the
fault of Brussels but the result of intransigence from other states
shows just how little was achieved in Hong Kong.

Speaking to an audience of German business and political leaders yesterday, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said that although the state of negotiations was "serious but not desperate"​, other countries would have to start pulling their weight.

Last minute negotiations at the World Trade Organization's Hong Kong Ministerial in December - which discussed the braking down of global trade barriers to agricultural products - resulted in an interim agreement that will mean negotiators have return to the bargaining table in 2006.

The result was viewed as "modest" because it avoided earlier outright failures, though it did not secure any major breakthrough. Development organisations however expressed disappointment at the outcome for failing to deliver on its promises.

So here we are again, with each side claiming they have put significant sacrifices on the table but are being let down by their trading partners.

Mandelson argued in Berlin that Europe does "not hold the key to the next step of progress",​ and said that the bloc had so far put far more on the table than any other WTO member.

Others therefore should respond to Europe's offers if the talks were not to fail. The EU, said Mandelson, remained "completely committed to going as far as it could in all areas of the Doha negotiations...provided there is comparable effort elsewhere.

"The blockage in the (Doha) Round is not in Brussels,"​ argued Mandelson.

"Ambition for Europe. Inhibition for everyone else. This is a political non-starter, as well as a bad economic recipe for world trade growth."

During the Hong Kong negotiations, the US committed itself to cut domestic farm subsidies by 60 per cent within a five-year timeframe, and asked Europe to agree to reduce tariffs on farm imports by 55 per cent to 90 per cent.

But because the European Union imposes higher import tariffs than the United States, it argued that such a move would disproportionately hit European farmers.

Commissioner Mandelson however argued that Europe has "shown again and again - without due recognition - that we are prepared to pay to keep the multilateral system on track. European agriculture - cereals, poultry, beef and much besides - will contract and there will be a significant loss of employment as a result of our WTO offer,"​ he said.

He reaffirmed that Europe would seek similar commitments to agricultural reform from all other developed countries, including the USA, as part of a final Single Undertaking.

Negotiations, said Mandelson, had to move beyond the assumption of a single set of developing country interests in the Doha negotiations. He argued that recognising the greater ability of competitive emerging economies to liberalise trade was now realistic and necessary.

"There is no alternative to negotiation. I am sure Europe is willing to move faster and go further where that is appropriate - but not in a race with ourselves."

If a meaningful agreement is ever to be reached, then all parties involved will have to be prepared to make proper concessions.

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