Australia says US, EU both taking hard line on global trade talks

CAIRNS, Australia - The European Union and the United States both appear unwilling to compromise on global trade talks, Australia’s trade minister said as Canberra battled to resurrect flatlining negotiations.

By (AFP)

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Published: Tue 19 Sep 2006, 6:40 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:22 PM

Mark Vaile accused the EU, US and Japan of taking hard line stances on agricultural protection that would make it tough to break the deadlock at the specially-extended Cairns Group meeting that he will host starting Wednesday.

“Countries like the EU and Japan and the US are in a very defensive position as far as reforming their agricultural programs, of course they are going to take a hard line,” Vaile told public radio, casting further gloom over the talks.

“But the reality is that the rest of the membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not prepared to sign off on a deal that does not both liberalise agriculture.”

His comments coincided with calls at a meeting in Singapore from World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Rodrigo Rato for WTO major world trade players to revive talks.

Australia called the Cairns Group meeting of 18 agricultural exporting nations in the hope of reviving the WTO’s so-called Doha Round of talks, suspended in July amid a bitter row between the EU and US on farm protection.

European trade chief Peter Mandelson declined an invitation to the expanded meeting, even though top US, Japanese and WTO officials will attend.

He delivered another blow to Australia’s hopes of getting the talks back on track Tuesday, saying in a newspaper interview that a Canberra-proposed compromise on farm trade was “undo-able”.

Mandelson told the Australian Financial Review that the Canberra-brokered compromise asked too much of European farmers and would also be rejected by developing nations.

“I think Australia understands that this would be unacceptable to developing nations,” Mandelson said.

Australia’s proposed deal involves the US cutting its farm subsidies by a further 5.0 billion dollars and the EU reducing its tariffs by a further 5.0 percent.

“We think that’s a middle ground position, but one that neither party is willing to move to at this stage,” he said.

With the prospects of the meeting at the resort town alongside the Great Barrier Reef achieving nothing beyond the usual rhetorical commitments to free trade, Vaile demanded the major players of world trade show leadership.

“The politicians of Japan, the United States, Europe and other countries with high levels of support and protection for agriculture need to look beyond the special pleadings from their farm lobby groups and stand up for their consumers,” he said.

He said all sides needed to show ambition to reach a deal.

“The European Union will need to take a more ambitious approach on its tariff cutting formula and on sensitive products,” he said.

“The United States will also need to show more flexibility on domestic support.

“For our part, the Cairns Group will need to keep pressing the majors to show the leadership that is required. We also have contributions to make on development issues.”

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab was pessimistic about the chances of wrapping up the negotiations quickly in remarks published Tuesday in Singapore’s Emerging Markets financial daily.

“If you had to put money on this, it is more likely that the Doha Round will not close this year or next, or perhaps two to three years from now because of these differences,” she said in excerpts from an interview in late August.

WTO director-general Pascal Lamy remained upbeat, telling an IMF-World Bank development committee meeting in Singapore Monday that he suspended the talks as a “time out” to allow serious reflection among participants.

“The real questions ... are “how’ and “when’ we can conclude the trade negotiations?” he said. “The right answers, I believe, are ’ambitiously’ and “soon’.”

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