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EU farmers dig in heels over conceding more at WTO
Disappointed by the collapse of global talks over agriculture reform and new trade rules, European farmers said on Monday it had been better to halt the negotiations rather than yield more ground over subsidies.
Tensions over farming had overshadowed the World Trade Organization's (WTO) meeting in Cancun right from the start, although it was disagreement over a package of broad issues to cut red tape that finally sank the talks. After the EU's own farm reform in June, which proposed subsidy cuts in the key areas of cereals, dairy and livestock, European farmers are not keen to see pressure from the WTO force even more policy changes, and loss in their revenues.
Britain's National Farmers' Union said the WTO's failure at Cancun had left global trade talks in limbo, while the EU's negotiating position on agriculture had not been at fault.
"We are very disappointed. The failure of the talks means that there is now a period of uncertainty ahead. It puts a question mark over how the WTO can progress further," the UK's National Farmers Union Chief Economist Derek Wilkinson said. "Europe put a great package of proposals on the table, but this wasn't reciprocated," he told Reuters. German farmers' union DBV said: "The EU had prepared itself for agreement in trade talks by the end of 2004 with painful cuts for its farmers in a reform of the agriculture policy. This must be the basis for continuation of the trade talks in Geneva." "Better no deal than a bad deal," France's largest farm union FNSEA said in a statement. France receives the lion's share of EU farm spending, itself amounting to nearly half of the bloc's entire annual budget of close to 100 billion euros. Farmers in other EU countries were equally sceptical about the WTO talks, saying that while developing countries' concerns had certainly to be taken into account, the European Union could not concede much more without harming its own agriculture sector. Irish farmers, fearing the WTO talks might lead to a flood of food imports, said the EU's recent reform meant European farmers had even more to lose from the WTO talks than when they were first launched in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001. Europe's concessions on farm trade were contained in June's reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), itself an unprecedented shake-up of a complex subsidy system, they said. "The EU went a long way preparing proposals for world trade when it had negotiations on CAP, which we changed phenomenally. These were to be our concessions to the WTO," said Thomas Honner, president of the Irish young farmers' organisation. "To break down (at Cancun) is a bit sudden, I think the other trading blocs were a bit hasty -- nobody was ever going to get everything they wanted," he told Reuters. "We made fair concessions in how farmers receive payments." THIRD WORLD BLAMED Farmers said attempts by a group of 21 developing nations, led by Brazil and India, to wheedle more concessions on subsidies and market access from farming giants such as the EU and the United States contributed to the talks collapsing. "These countries were sometimes badly and irresponsibly advised by non-governmental organisations to demand everything in the agricultural sector but make no concessions in other areas," DBV said in a statement. While the poor nations boasted a political win by refusing to be bullied into a deal arranged by the world's top trading powers, EU and U.S. negotiators also complained that the group brought more rhetoric that proposals to the negotiating table. On the vexed issue of export subsidies, for example, the European Union has offered to work towards reductions but refuses to consider eliminating them altogether: a stance that is completely rejected by developing countries. "We have emerged as the losers, as we made concessions and now they are demanding that we make new ones," said Pedro Barato, president of Spain's 300,000-strong Young Farmers' Association, referring to Third World demands for subsidy cuts above those already agreed in the EU's farm reform.
MGR Archive 23.9.2003
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