26th Feb 2024

EU hits back at Australia in trade tiff

  • Protectionism in farming is the main sticking point for both the US and the EU (Photo: EUobserver)

The war of words over last month's collapse of the world trade negotiations is continuing with the EU reacting angrily to remarks that it did not offer enough to save the talks and accusing Australia of "Europe bashing".

"At the moment we hear from some quarters of the Australian government a lot of bashing of Europe," EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

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"Until we see everyone, all the negotiating partners, being asked to table and to demonstrate some sort of flexibility, we're really going to be no further forward," he added.

The commissioner also accused Australia - which has a free trade agreement with the United States - of taking Washington's side by not criticising the US' position in the talks enough.

"I think the Australian government as a friend, close friend and ally of the United States really has got to be ... has got to show some realism or get the United States to show some realism on farm subsidies," he told ABC radio.

"If we heard as much messaging to the United States on the farm subsidies as we in Europe hear from Australia on market access in agriculture, then I think that Australia's approach would be considered a bit more balanced", he added.

Mr Mandelson's remarks were in response to Australian trade minister Mark Vaile's comments last week that Europe's offer to cut agricultural tariffs "would make very little difference".

Mr Vaile's remarks appeared to harden the bad feeling since the WTO talks on liberalising trade collapsed with the EU now unlikely to attend a meeting next month organised by Australia to try and revive the round.

Mr Mandelson said the meeting - to which WTO chief Pascal Lamy and US trade negotiators have also been invited - was "not a priority" for the EU.

Mandelson's criticism not helping

Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer said the trade commissioner's criticism of Australia's role would not help the WTO talks.

"The European Union has not been prepared significantly to improve its market access offer for agricultural products," Mr Downer said.

"And for as long as it refuses to increase its market access offer, well then, we're not going to get a settlement to this problem", he added, according to the Associated Press.

This round of trade talks, begun in Doha in 2001, was supposed to break down the barriers to world trade and help lift millions out of poverty.

But the round almost immediately fell behind its deadlines and broke off in acrimony last month with the EU and US publicly trading spats about the others' inflexibility.

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