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'Paralysis' of food trade talks bad for EU business

By Anthony Fletcher , 26-Oct-2006

The European Commission has once again expressed regret that the failure of the WTO Doha Round of trade talks will negatively impact EU business.

"I come to this issue first not only because it's unclear but also because it's so important to the European Union," said Mariann Fischer Boel member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture and rural development.

"In terms of agriculture, everyone knows that we have 'defensive interests' in these negotiations; but we also have very strong offensive interests: winning greater international recognition for Geographical Indications, for example, or bringing discipline to trade-distorting domestic support in the US."

She also told the International Forum on Agriculture and Food in Italy last week that the Doha Round holds great possibilities for European Union businesses that export services or industrial goods.

"Therefore, we regret that the US has paralysed the round for the time being with its refusal to give enough ground on its domestic support programmes. But the game isn't up yet. If the US can make a positive move after their mid-term elections in November, of course Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and I will be ready to come back to the table."

The Doha Development Agenda, launched in November 2001, in the Qatari capital, Doha, aimed to free global trade by cutting industrial and agricultural tariffs and by reducing farm subsidies, with a special focus on achieving concrete benefits for developing countries.

But WTO members refused to budge on issues such as the lowering of tariffs on certain goods, during the final Doha round of WTO trade talks this summer.

"If we haven't made any progress by next spring, the prospects for signing off a deal in the near future would not be good," admitted Boel. "We might have to wait years rather than months."

But even if no progress is ever made on the Doha Round, the EC must continue to commit itself to reforming the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy).

"That means using the CAP to increase farmers' competitiveness," said Boel.

"It means a sharp focus on high-quality agricultural markets because this is an area where we can compete with the world's low-cost producers, and win."

Boel said that the next step was to extend the process of reform to three further sectors: bananas, wine, and fruit and vegetables. The Commission has already made proposals with regard to bananas.

"As in the case of wine, we must do all we can to stimulate competitiveness in the fruit and vegetables sector. If the sector is not competitive, there will be no lasting solution to the crises of the past."

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