European Union split threatens trade talks, Oxfam urges unity and leadership

Published: 22 November 2005

A fierce split between European Union member states over trade reform could cause the Doha Round of world trade talks to fail, said international agency Oxfam today. The EU must overcome its internal differences and show leadership and unity at a special Foreign Affairs ministerial meeting in Luxembourg tomorrow (Tuesday) or millions of poor farmers will lose out.

A fierce split between European Union member states over trade reform could cause the Doha Round of world trade talks to fail, said international agency Oxfam today.


The EU must overcome its internal differences and show leadership and unity at a special Foreign Affairs ministerial meeting in Luxembourg tomorrow (Tuesday) or millions of poor farmers will lose out.

"Some EU states are insisting on “red lines" over which they will not cross," said Céline Charveriat, Head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "But Europe must realize that poor countries have their own "red lines" and will fight to ensure that their people are not harmed by a bad deal. With less than three months to go before the World Trade Organization’s ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, now is not the time for short-sighted intransigence. Now is the time to honor the development promises made four years ago."

"The EU could effectively kill the Doha Development Round today. Or it could give a boost to talks that will help unlock the potential of world trade to lift millions of people out of poverty. Which Europe will prevail?" Charveriat asked.

Fourteen member states – including France, Ireland, Belgium, Italy and Portugal – are saying that the EU has gone too far in offering concessions at the WTO. The meeting in Luxembourg has been called at their request to question the mandate of Trade and Agriculture Commissioners Peter Mandelson and Mariann Fischer Boel. They want to continue protecting their farmers with high import tariffs and are rejecting deep cuts in trade distorting subsidies.

Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are among a group of 11 that support Commissioner Mandelson. There are certain key swing states – among them Germany and Spain – whose floating votes could determine whether or not Mandelson has the qualified majority needed to go forward and negotiate further subsidy cuts and increased market access.

"The proposals already tabled by the EU and the US don't go far enough and largely ignore the needs of poor countries," Charveriat said. "If the EU retrench even further – and, in effect, manacle Peter Mandelson's hands to the table – then the Doha Round will fail."

"Oxfam welcomes the fact that EU respects the Doha mandate by proposing significantly lower tariff reductions from developing countries, contrary to other countries like the United States or Australia. These negotiations aren't about giving "an eye for an eye" – poor countries must be allowed to protect their own fledgling industries."

"However, the EU could deliver massive gains to poor countries by opening its heavily protected markets much more deeply to developing country products. This is where the EU needs to move – it needs to put development first." Charveriat said.

"Commissioner Mandelson must also be given the freedom to negotiate meaningful, genuine cuts in trade-distorting farm subsidies. Oxfam is extremely worried that the protectionist interests of some member states don't suddenly overwhelm those who want a successful conclusion to this round."

Contact Information

For more information, please contact:
Louis Belanger, Oxfam Press Officer in Brussels on +32 473 562 260 or
Amy Barry, Oxfam Press officer in Geneva on +44 (0)7980 664397