18th Jan 2020

World trade talks enter last chance saloon

  • EU member states are wary of compromises on the bloc's agricultural market-access (Photo: EUobserver)

Ministers from across the world will meet in Geneva on Friday (30 June) to reach an agreement to what some have called the last chance for a successful deal in the so-called Doha round of global trade talks.

"We all have a pretty clear understanding of what needs to be done. Now we have to get on and do so," said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson at a press conference ahead of the 3-day ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

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Mr Mandelson and EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will represent the EU when they will negotiate with the G6 - Australia, Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the US - on Thursday night (29 June), with talks amongst all 149 WTO members scheduled for the day after.

Austria and France, however, raised their voices on Thursday morning after Mr Mandelson told reporters at a press conference that the EU was ready to cut agriculture subsidies if others were also willing to compromise, and to make the EU's agriculture market more accessible.

"It would be a major error to suggest a further opening in market access," said French farm minister Dominique de Bussereau according to the Associated Press. "That's a trap and we want to make sure the commission avoids falling into that trap."

An EU diplomat told EUobserver that all member states agreed to the mandate for the commission, but that some countries made clear to Brussels that it should not exceed this mandate.

In a statement issued on Thursday (29 June), EU Member states "reconfirmed [their] support to the commission for the negotiation of a comprehensive, balanced and ambitious agreement as a single undertaking, on behalf of the EU."

Director-General of the WTO and former EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy warned the top officials on Wednesday night that the most important moves to be taken would be in the area of subsidy cuts to ensure a flowing trade in agriculture and industrial products.

"It is the moment of truth", Mr Lamy said. "I don't think we can postpone the decision anymore."

The almost five year old Doha Development Round of WTO talks, which started in the capital of Qatar in 2001, has already missed several deadlines and was meant to be finished in 2004.

Mr Lamy urged the US, the EU and the developing world headed by Brazil and India to overcome their differences and make concessions to reach a successful end before US president George W Bush's mandate to negotiate a trade deal expires next year, after which negotiations will be much harder.

He warned the EU and the US need to improve their offers on domestic subsidy cuts, while developing countries need to be prepared to reduce industrial import tariffs.

The overall aim of the Doha round is to boost the global economy and lift millions out of poverty.

NGOs are not satisfied

But NGOs warn that rich countries are pushing for trade deals that could leave poor countries worse off.

"The current offers would allow rich countries to increase their current trade-distorting farm subsidies rather than reduce them, as poorer countries were promised," said Celine Charveriat from Oxfam International in a statement.

John Hilary from the NGO War on Want stated that "the time has come to admit that the current WTO system will not result in a pro-development deal. The Doha round must be scrapped."

He added the deal would only be in the interests of the biggest corporations around the world.

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