5th Feb 2023

Blair urges EU and US to break world trade logjam

To revitalise stalled world trade talks, the EU and the US must make further concessions, Tony Blair has urged ahead of an important world trade summit in Hong Kong next month.

Speaking at the Lord Mayor's Banquet at the Guildhall in London on Monday evening (14 November) the UK Prime Minister and current head of the EU Council told the US and the EU to move ahead.

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Mr Blair picked up on an offer from US President George Bush, who recently in a speech to the UN called for the removal of all agricultural and industrial subsidies, and said the US would do it if other countries did too.

"We must take up this plea and answer it," according to Mr Blair.

France holding the key

The negotiations ran into an impasse as the EU’s offer to cut its barriers for farm imports was deemed too small by Brazil - which has a rapid growing agricultural sector - and other nations including the United States and Australia.

Brussels on the other hand insists it has gone as far as it can, given the resistance of some EU members such as France against offering further concessions.

The EU says it wants developing countries, led by Brazil, to make an offer on removing barriers for industrial exports and services.

"If they don't move in the areas of services and agriculture, it could be that there will be failure," Jose Manuel Barroso told Europe 1 radio and the TV5 television channel over the weekend.

"I'm not very optimistic about Hong Kong," the European Commission president added.

China, US and Russia meet

Much is at stake in Hong Kong.

Developing countries could gain $47 billion in increased agricultural exports, while cutting trade barriers by a third is expected to boost the world economy by almost 600 billion dollars, Mr Blair said.

"Ultimately, agriculture accounts for under 2% of the GDP of rich countries and roughly the same share of employment," the British leader stated.

"Can we afford to allow differences over support for agriculture in rich countries to block an agreement that could give renewed hope to the 1 in 5 people in the world?"

Pressure mounts on the EU to move ahead and admit to further cuts. On Friday (18 November) leaders of the 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will meet in Korea to discuss among other issues the world trade deadlock.

The organisation includes China, Russia and the US, and altogether accounts for more than a third of the world's population and approximately 60% of world GDP.

"We want to see progress on agriculture," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Reuters after a meeting preparing the summit conclusions.

"We want to see the European Union come back with a better market access offer."

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