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French blast World Trade deal for protected tariff quotas
United Press International, July 23, 2004
A threatened French veto has depressed the already uncertain prospects for a new world trade deal that might have signaled an end to the massive $300 million farm subsidies paid to farmers in rich countries each year.

French President Jacques Chirac Wednesday rejected a deal drafted by the World Trade Organization as "unacceptable" in its present form, mainly because it proposed an end to agricultural export subsidies.

"This proposal is profoundly unbalanced to the detriment of the interests of the European Union," Chirac said.

The agricultural subsidies make it harder for poor countries to export to the rich markets of the EU, the United States and Japan. Moreover, subsidies paid to farm exports from rich countries make it harder for farmers in poor countries to compete in their own home markets.

The WTO draft called for commitments from all WTO members "ensuring the parallel elimination of all forms of (agricultural) export subsidies ... by a credible end date."

WTO officials told United Press International that they were exploring whether Chirac's veto was more of a negotiating ploy. Chirac's statement Wednesday emphasized that "in the agriculture domain the principle of parallelism in the treatment of all forms of export support is in particular not respected."

"Parallelism" means that while the United States is proposing to scrap subsidies on farm exports, the EU has said it will only agree if the U.S. agrees in parallel to scrap its own separate export credits and guarantees, which the EU sees as subsidies in disguise.

The meeting of top WTO officials and the trade meeting now getting under way in Geneva is seen as the last chance of reaching a broader trade deal this year. Delay will mean waiting for up to a year as a new EU Commission (and possibly a new U.S. administration) settles in. Known as the Doha Round, after the Persian Gulf city where it began in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, the broader trade deal hinges on the world's poorer countries agreeing to liberalize foreign investment rules and trade in services in return for the rich countries liberalizing farm trade.

Poor countries are already wary of one part of the WTO's draft deal, which proposed allowing lesser cuts in tariffs on "sensitive products", which means those most protected by tariff quotas in richer countries, such as rice in Japan, dairy produce in the U.S.

At the same time, France is also blocking the way a separate trade deal between the EU and the Mercosur countries of Latin America, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, where talks broke down Wednesday. The EU seeks more access to Mercosur's telecommunication and maritime shipping industries while Mercosur wants to open the EU agriculture market.
MGR Archive 25.7.2004
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