Global trade talks show signs of faltering

July 12, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- GENEVA (AFP): Trade ministers stepped up a campaign to overcome deadlock on agriculture at a meeting of developing countries, amid signs that attempts to revive global free trade talks by the end of this month were faltering.

Food importers resist deal

July 7, 2004 -- CropChoice news -- Washington Post, 07/06/04: Ten food-importing nations said they won't accept a World Trade Organization deal on liberalizing trade in agriculture unless it preserves high import tariffs. The so-called Group of 10 said it cannot commit to cutting all import tariffs by as much as other nations would like because it would devastate its farming communities. The nations -- WTO members that consume more food than they produce -- are Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Bulgaria, Iceland, Israel, Mauritius, Norway, Taiwan and Liechtenstein.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers.

"The work in front of us is the size of a mountain. Everybody is willing to make an effort but this is an uphill battle," Argentina's ambassador at the WTO in Geneva, Alfredo Chiaradia, told AFP.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy were due to take part in the meeting of G90 developing nations in Mauritius, along with WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakhdi.

The 147 WTO members have set themselves an end July deadline to agree on the broad outline of the way ahead for the current round of trade liberalization talks.

The meeting on the Indian Ocean island came hours after a weekend gathering of five trading powers ended in Paris without a breakthrough on the issue of agriculture, a major obstacle in the talks at the WTO.

Negotiations on the current trade round launched by ministers in Doha, Qatar in 2001 were meant to last three years, with a final accord on reducing trade barriers in key sectors at the end of 2004.

Supachai Panitchpakdi said on Monday that the main participants might lose interest if they could not see results by the beginning of next year.

He told the French La Tribune newspaper that a meeting of the WTO general council to be held in Geneva July 27 and 28 was "a historic opportunity and it would be deplorable if this is missed".

"The main participants in the round risk losing all motivation if they do not have a guarantee that it will end, as planned at the beginning of 2005.," Supachai added.

While Supachai noted "clear signs of political will", pointing to pledges by the US and EU in recent months to eliminate their subsidies for farm exports, trade rounds are notoriously laborious.

The previous Uruguay Round, which set up the WTO in 1995, was concluded years behind schedule, and the agricultural issue is a leftover from disagreement during those negotiations.

The informal meeting that ended in Paris Sunday brought together chief negotiators from Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India and the United States in an attempt to forge a common position on farm subsidies and tariffs.

"The meeting was useful and possibilities of convergence between the different points of view were identified," Brazilian trade minister Celso Amorim told journalists.

Like most of the other obstacles in the overall Doha trade round, the farming issue pits rich countries against poor countries.

Developing nations and agricultural exporters in the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters want industrialized states -- mainly the EU and US -- to get rid of subsidies that they blame for pricing their produce out of world markets.

There is also pressure to improve market access by bringing down tariffs imposed on agricultural imports to protect domestic farmers.

"I don't see the US moving on domestic support, I don't see the EU moving on market access, I don't see the light in many sectors," Chiaradia said.

Indian Trade Minister Nath Kamal underlined that talks on market access must take into account the basic needs of 600 million Indian subsistence farmers.

"Otherwise, it will not be possible," Kamal added.

EU officials gave a positive account but Lamy also warned in the French daily Le Figaro that "one should not expect a miracle".

The drive to overcome the deadlock that led to the collapse of a WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in September 2003 has shifted to Mauritius, where the G90 were due to lay out a united front on agriculture.

The WTO chief agriculture negotiator has delayed a proposal for a compromise on the agriculture talks to take account of the outcome of the meetings.