22nd Feb 2020

World trade talks deadline set to be missed

  • "We will move on farm aid if the US does so too", said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson (Photo: European Commission)

Both EU and US officials claim they are prepared to make the concessions needed to wrap up the current world trade talks despite a missed 30 April deadline.

This week's meeting of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) ministers was cancelled due to a lack of progress among negotiators, necessary for an overall deal on world trade liberalisation scheduled for the end of the year.

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The 30 April deadline was agreed by ministers from 150 countries gathered in Hong Kong last December, as a way to complete a deal before the expiry of trade legislation in the US next summer.

But EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson hinted on Wednesday (26 April) that he might still make concessions on the most controversial issue in the trade talks package - EU aid for farmers - if Washington made a similar move.

"If the circumstances allow - if key partners put something worthwhile on the table - the EU will be prepared to further enhance our current agricultural offer," Mr Mandelson told journalists.

"If the US is similarly willing ... to negotiate further on its agriculture offer, this is an important advance," he added.

But Washington has been following the same tactics - asking the EU to put a better offer on the table first.

"We've always said that the offer we put on the table in October on domestic support was conditional on other members improving their offers on market access," Peter Allgeier, the US ambassador to the WTO, told AFP.

British media report that UK prime minister Tony Blair is pessimistic about the chances of the international community making a deal by Sunday, and has spoken several times to US president George Bush about what should be done next.

"It is very bleak. This is what we predicted all along, that the process in Geneva wouldn't deliver and that trade negotiators would be unable to unblock the logjam," UK daily Guardian quoted one Downing Street official as saying.

French officials have suggested the WTO should rather drop the Doha round agenda and go for less ambitious goals.

But a leading charity group Oxfam argues in a fresh report that developing countries should rather miss the deadline and wait for a better offer to emerge.

"No deadline is hard enough to justify signing a new trade deal that is going to undermine development. Although a slow round would prolong existing imbalances, it could at least prevent things from getting worse," Oxfam stated.

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