BRUSSELS, February 25, 2005, Paul Meller, NY Times via CropChoice:
The United States and the European Union, the world's
two biggest trading blocs, are disagreeing over agriculture
positions adopted last year, casting doubt on progress
In one spat, the United States has threatened sanctions
on a range of European food exports, from cheeses to
olives, in retaliation for Europe's decision in September
to raise import tariffs on rice.
In an interview Thursday, Europe's new agriculture
commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, said she hoped to
avert sanctions and her office later announced that
a deal had been reached. But the United States trade
representative's office quickly denied that.
"Good efforts were made, but there are issues
that still need to be resolved," said Richard Mills,
a spokesman for the United States trade representative.
Sanctions, slated for March 1, would affect $33 million
in imports from Europe. The United States, however,
plans to ask the World Trade Organization, which is
arbitrating the dispute, for an extension of the deadline.
Europe's position in the rice dispute does not bode
well for efforts to reach agreement on agriculture in
the Doha round of trade talks, Allen Johnson, the United
States chief agriculture negotiator, said in a phone
"It's not a good sign that Europe is going back
on commitments it made in the Uruguay round," Mr.
Johnson said, referring to talks concluded in the mid-1980's,
in which Europe and the United States promised to reduce
Two weeks ago, in another skirmish, the European Union
started paying wheat producers export refunds to encourage
them to sell their produce outside of the union after
a bumper harvest last year.
American officials have criticized the new export refunds,
which are designed to compensate farmers by paying them
the difference between the price of wheat in Europe
and the lower world price.
"I understand their concerns," Ms. Fischer
Boel said, but insisted that under existing rules Europe
had the right to impose that type of measure.
Last year, Europe offered to scrap all export assistance
it pays its farmers, and the United States said it would
reciprocate by scrapping export credits and no longer
using food aid as a way of subsidizing its farmers.
These promises were designed to resuscitate global trade
talks, which had broken down at a meeting of the World
Trade Organization in Cancún, Mexico, in 2003.
The move seemed to work. Progress in the global trade
talks is fastest in agriculture, according to European
trade officials, while progress on services and manufacturing
Ms. Fischer Boel and Mr. Johnson will be attending
a small ministerial meeting of trade officials next
weekend in Nairobi. Agriculture talks will focus on
technical details, like how to compare tariffs imposed
on 8,000 different farm products by the 148 members
of the World Trade Organization.