Australia disappointed by EU trade offer

Sydney, Oct 30 | Updated: Oct 31 2005, 05:30am hrs
Australia joined the United States and Brazil in criticizing the European Unions latest concession in World Trade Organization (WTO) talks as too little, but said it still hoped a new world trade deal could be reached.

Trade minister Mark Vaile told Reuters in an interview he still hoped the Doha Round of trade talks would proceed at a meeting of the WTOs 148 members in Hong Kong in December.

The European Union said on Friday it had offered to cut its average tariff on agricultural imports by almost half to just over 12% but this is still much less than that sought by the United States, Australia, Brazil and other big food producers.

Im not as optimistic as I was but its not all over. The parties are still talking, Vaile said.

Our expectations are that that (EU tariff cut) figure needs to be well above 54%. Its a positive move in the right direction but still not enough.

An EU official said the new offer represented an average tariff cut of 38%.

The EU is split over how far to cut farm subsidies with France, a major recipient, accusing EU trade chief Peter Mandelson of offering too many concessions.Vaile acknowledged the EU, which spends over 40 billion euros a year on farm subsidies, had worked hard to raise its previous offer to cut tariffs by 24.5%, in the face of opposition from some of its 25 members.

But he said the EU also needed to reduce the number of sensitive products excluded from the proposed tariff cuts.

Negotiations would continue to close the gap with a U.S. proposal for average tariff cuts of 75%, Vaile said.

Much would depend on a video conference between ministers from Europe, the United States, Brazil, India and Australia next week, he said.

Australia, a major food producer, has been a leading advocate for freer farm trade.

The United States said on Friday that it was disappointed with Europes latest proposal while Brazil said the EU offer was far from what developing countries wanted.Reuters