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WTO chief defends European farm offer

The head of the World Trade Organization said Sunday that a new European Union offer to cut farm tariffs, already criticized by major trading partners, was serious and deserved consideration.
/ Source: Reuters

The head of the World Trade Organization said Sunday that a new European Union offer to cut farm tariffs, already criticized by major trading partners, was serious and deserved consideration.

Pascal Lamy welcomed recent moves by both the EU and the United States on agricultural trade issues.

“Europe and the United States are moving on farm issues. This is good news,” Lamy told France’s LCI television in an interview.

“It’s been a long time that this hasn’t happened. This is what allows the rest of the negotiations to be unblocked.”

He said Friday’s EU proposal on farm goods was “a serious offer which merits serious discussions.” The EU is offering to nearly halve its average tariff on agricultural imports to just over 12 percent.

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Saturday that “Europe’s final offer” represented a middle-ground solution for trade talks, but it failed to impress the 25-nation bloc’s international trading partners.

The United States, Brazil and Australia demanded more concessions, while Africans said the offer fell short of what was needed to break a deadlock in negotiations.

The WTO's 148 members are due to meet in December in Hong Kong to try and agree on a blueprint for a new global trade deal.

The EU’s executive Commission has been caught between demands for more concessions by big trading partners, such as the United States, and staunch French opposition to weakening protection for farmers.

The head of France’s main farm union on Sunday called the new EU proposal a provocation, and said the French government should stand up against it.

“I hope that the (French) government, which has showed a lot of firmness in the last few weeks, will not only threaten the use of its veto, but apply it,” Jean-Michel Lemetayer, head of France’s FNSEA farm union, told France Inter radio.

France has protested vociferously over Mandelson’s handling of the trade talks, accusing him of making too many concessions and overstepping the negotiating mandate given him by the bloc.

French President Jacques Chirac said on Thursday that Paris might veto a deal if Brussels went any further.

Lamy said agriculture was only one of many subjects for the trade talks, noting that progress on a farm deal was important but not sufficient.

The trade talks had to succeed “to adjust global trade regulation to the rules of today’s world, and so that this opening of trade happens under fair conditions,” he said.

“If that does not happen, it is bad news for trade, and therefore for growth, and for reducing poverty,” Lamy said.