Lamy puts pressure on global agriculture deal

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World trade organization

WTO director general Pascal Lamy has told delegates that a deal on
global agricultural trade must be achieved soon.

Speaking at the twelfth session of the Parliamentary Conference on the WTO's steering committee, he said that next week represented a crucial moment for global agricultural trade negotiations.

"A number of ministers will be travelling to Geneva with the aim of narrowing differences in two key areas: trade opening in industrial and in agricultural goods,"​ he said.

"There are many other subjects in the Doha Round, but we can only turn to this long list, with agricultural and industrial goods out of the way."

Things are progressing. Last week, the chairs of the negotiating groups on agriculture and industrial goods have issued what are called "draft modalities"​for their negotiations.

"These are documents that sum up the current state-of-play, and which will form the basis for next week's negotiations,"​ said Lamy. "They announce the beginning of a marathon, since much work remains."

Lamy said that agriculture is a sector that has arrived late to the rules of multilateral trade. The various forms of subsidies that the rich world had given to its producers have crowded out African and other farmers from international markets, putting the breaks on their agricultural trade.

"Furthermore, the very high tariffs on agricultural products have seriously hampered trade flow. Some developing countries argue that they need these tariffs to counter the effects of rich world subsidies, which lead to the dumping of their produce in developing country markets. "While the average tariff worldwide on industrial goods is only 5 per cent, it is 60 per cent on the agricultural."

Lamy said that while substantial progress in agricultural negotiations has been made, wide divergences between members still remain. On export subsidies, countries have already agreed to their elimination by 2013.

"However, there continue to be divergences between our Members on the extent reductions that must be undertaken of tariffs, and of domestic subsidies that distort farming decisions. The two sides of what has been called "the magic triangle", the EU on agricultural tariffs and the US on agricultural subsidies, will need to move over the coming few days if a deal is to be reached."

This has been a common theme. Since last minute negotiations at the World Trade Organisation's Hong Kong Ministerial in December resulted in an interim agreement political courage has been in rather short supply.

The EU trade commissioner recently called the US the 'biggest single block' to the successful completion of the round.

Lamy insists that all sides will need to make concessions if trade talks are to succeed. "A failure of the Doha Round would be first and foremost a loss for the developing world, who fought hard to launch a trade negotiation that would set the trade record straight,"​ said Lamy. "We now have a once in a generation opportunity to correct the imbalances in multilateral trade."

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