EU divisions threaten to wreck world trade talks

Published: 30 May 2006

The divisions and vested interests that emerged openly today within the European Union over its farm policies threaten to wreck the opportunity for world trade talks to deliver development to poor countries, international agency Oxfam said today.

EU agriculture ministers – led by France, Austria and Finland among others – said publicly that EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson must not make any new offer at the WTO to cut European farm import tariffs. Oxfam said this could be the final fatal blow to the faint hopes for a successful trade round, which could have been completed in July.

“Some EU states are acting like ostriches with their heads in the sand,” Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair head Celine Charveriat said. “The EU needed to show leadership and allow its chief negotiator room to negotiate, which must include compromises for all. Instead, it has signalled its willingness to sacrifice poor countries in order to protect its own dated and grossly unfair farm policies.”

The EU has offered to cut its average farm tariffs by 39 percent. Developing countries want that cut to be closer to 54 percent, and the US wants 75 percent. “The stubbornness of a few rich European states will spell disaster for millions of poor country farmers,” Charveriat said. “Unless Europe improves its offer to open up its farm market, and the US immediately moves to further reduce its own huge subsidy regime, then developing countries will be perfectly justified in refusing a deal that would hurt them.”

“This bickering between the EU and the US about who should move first is unedifying – but worse, it is cynical and actively detrimental to global poverty reduction,” she said. “Unless the EU and the US change their attitudes and offers, tomorrow’s historians can look at this moment as when the chance to make trade fair was spurned in favour of rich self-interest.”

“Its simply not true that developing countries’ demands are a threat to European farmers,” Charveriat said. “It is the extremely unfair distribution of subsidies that really hurts them, and EU agriculture ministers should face their own responsibilities instead of blaming everyone else."

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