EU delaying tactics threaten success of trade talks

Published: 1 November 2005

International agency Oxfam said today that the European Union could cause world trade talks to fail this year, by 'dragging its feet' over technicalities. On the eve of an informal meeting of trade ministers in Paris, Oxfam warned that delays caused by disagreements over how to convert tariffs into percentage form were jeopardizing the likelihood of a successful outcome later in the year.

International agency Oxfam said today that the European Union could cause world trade talks to fail this year, by 'dragging its feet' over technicalities. On the eve of an informal meeting of trade ministers in Paris, Oxfam warned that delays caused by disagreements over how to convert tariffs into percentage form were jeopardizing the likelihood of a successful outcome later in the year.

"For all its rhetoric on development and multilateralism, the EU, which has very high tariffs, is proving to be as selfish as anyone. This technical issue should have been resolved months ago but because certain countries want to protect their short-term self-interest it has dragged on and on and is obstructing progress on everything else," said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam International's Geneva office.

Delays over tariff conversions mean that crucial discussions about market access for agricultural goods cannot move forward. Such negotiations are crucial for developing countries who want to secure protection for vulnerable farm sectors. Some WTO members are also using the delay as an excuse not to make progress in other areas. The US for example, has said they will not offer anything on cotton until the EU agrees on tariff conversion.

"This is not the time for political power play or tit-for-tat negotiations," said Charveriat. "We are at a crucial stage in the talks. Although the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong in December seems a long way off, there is in fact an enormous amount to achieve between then and now. We should be well on the way but we are still stalling on the starting line. The lives of millions of poor people depend on these negotiations but they are being held hostage by the selfishness of rich countries."

Members are trying to agree on how to express all import duties as percentages in order to be able to compare them accurately. This is an essential step before they can agree how much to cut tariffs, which they have committed to doing as part of the Doha round of WTO talks. Discussions have been going on since January and were expected to be resolved much sooner but broke down again last week without agreement. Negotiators will try again to find a solution at this week's meeting on the sidelines of the OECD ministerial in Paris.

Oxfam also criticized the lack of transparent process in WTO negotiations and the tendency of big, powerful members to club together to reach deals that they then foist on poorer countries. The WTO is meant to be a democratic institution in which the interests of all 148 members are equally represented but in reality the richer members wield more power and benefit from the system disproportionately.

Charveriat: "The last WTO Ministerial in Cancun collapsed because the agenda had been overloaded and poor countries were being asked to accept the unacceptable. If the EU and US don't change their attitudes and start working in good faith for an ambitious and pro-poor outcome we will end up in the same mess in Hong Kong."

Contact Information

For further information:
Amy Barry, Oxfam Press Officer, Oxford: 44 (0)1865 312498; 44 (0) 07980 664397