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 made earlier.
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 interview.
"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 tariffs.
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 is slower.
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.