A glimmer of hope from EU in world trade talks but Oxfam warns of the fine print

Published: 22 November 2005

Brussels – International agency Oxfam says that the latest European Union (EU) offer on agriculture appears to give some hope to unblock world trade talks with just 47 days left before the key WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong.

Brussels – International agency Oxfam says that the latest European Union (EU) offer on agriculture appears to give some hope to unblock world trade talks with just 47 days left before the key WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong.

Oxfam welcomes the EU's acknowledgement on the needs of developing countries, especially their right to decide the number of "special products" they can protect.

The EU has also offered more generous cuts to its agricultural tariffs. However, Oxfam warns that the fine print may yet make the deal meaningless for Europe's trading partners, especially the poorest countries that are depending on this "development" round of trade talks ending successfully.

"The EU still refuses to define its 'sensitive products' that it wants made exempt from tariff cuts," said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "If these are the same products that are important to developing countries then this offer would quickly begin to lose its meaning."

Oxfam notes that the EU made no improvement on its offer to cut its agricultural subsidies. "This remains a key concern because the present offer means the EU would have to make no reduction to the actual amount it spends each year on trade-distorting farm subsidies," Charveriat said.

Another concern is that the EU offer is conditional on extracting concessions on services and industrial tariffs from developing countries in return. "This is a dangerous game and one that would expose EU hypocrisy," Charveriat said. "We need to agree new agricultural rules before looking at anything else."

One of the most crucial questions is whether the EU is united. "If France breaks ranks – as it has done recently, wasting three crucial weeks in internal wrangling – then these WTO talks would finally seem doomed. It is so late in the day for the EU to try to make progress without having to worry about damaging splits," Charveriat said.

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Matthew Grainger in the UK on +44 1865-339128 or +44(0)7730-680837
Louis Belanger, Oxfam Press Officer in Brussels on +32 2 502 03 91 or +32 4 73 562 260