10th Dec 2019

Barroso calls for more concessions from developing economies ahead of WTO talks

  • Mr Sarkozy (r) has a different opinion on trade talks to the commission (Photo: © European Community, 2008)

All eyes are on Geneva on Monday (21 July) as world trade talks open in a last-ditch attempt at reaching a global agreement some seven years after discussions were launched.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in a statement released on Sunday night as trade ministers from 30 nations met for dinner in the Swiss city ahead of the negotiations, called the talks the "last great opportunity" for a deal, and called on the third world to make greater concessions.

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"For those negotiations to succeed, the other developed countries and the emerging economies in the WTO also have to make a major contribution," he said.

"Europe cannot be the sole banker of this deal," he added. "Moreover, Doha is not just about agriculture -- we also need to make progress on industrial tariffs, and in other areas of the negotiations such as services and geographical indications."

The EU feels that the meeting is the last chance to clinch a deal on a basic framework for a final agreement in the Doha Round of WTO world trade talks ahead of the November US presidential and congressional elections. The positions of the incoming president and members of congress are expected to be much more protectionist than has been the case for decades, making a deal after the end of the year unlikely.

An agreement has been blocked for years since negotiations opened in 2001 in Doha, Qatar. The main sticking points have been wealthy countries' demands that developing countries reduce duties on imports and open their markets to more manufactured goods.

In return, poorer countries want the EU and US to reduce subsidies for agricultural products, something that Northern countries have been loath to do.

Within the EU, key players are themselves divided over the level of reductions in financial support for the agricultural sector.

Trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have been in an ongoing scrap in recent weeks, with Mr Sarkozy going so far as to blame the commissioner's position on WTO talks for the defeat of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland's 12 June referendum.

Paris believes too many concessions have been made already, without sufficient commitments from the developing world on access to their markets for European industrial goods.

Although Ireland has not been as blunt as Mr Sarkozy, the country's prime minister, Brian Cowen promised farmers that he would veto any deal that harmed their interests - a commitment made in what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to win Ireland's rural areas to the Yes side in the referendum.

Development NGOs for their part warn that the talks are stacked in favour of the wealthier nations, saying that what is currently up for discussion will exacerbate ongoing problems with food prices and worsen levels of poverty in the third world.

"Forcing open the markets of [developing] countries still further will deepen the [food] crisis by handing greater control to multinational corporations, which put their own profits before people's needs," said John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, a UK development charity.

"Developing countries are still being pressed to open up their markets, despite the risks involved, while rich countries fail to address their own farm subsidies," he added.

"If the deal on the table goes through, millions of the world's most vulnerable people stand to lose their jobs and fall into poverty," he said, calling on ministers to abandon the talks.

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