EU may make new farm move in global trade push

Brussels, Nov 21 | Updated: Nov 22 2005, 05:30am hrs
Europes top trade negotiator on Monday held out the prospect of a new move on agriculture to get stalled World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks back on track for completion next year.

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told EU foreign ministers that Brussels might improve on its offer to scale back subsidies and farm import tariffs, if other trading partners do likewise in areas like industrial goods and services.

Mandelson reiterated there would be no new EU farm offer before a key Dec. 13-18 meeting of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong. But if the momentum of the negotiation were to accelerate we would need to be in a position to engage further on agriculture as on other issues at some point either at Hong Kong or after, Mandelson said in notes prepared for his speech.

The Hong Kong meeting had originally been intended as a deadline for the full blueprint of a new global trade deal which has already been four years in the making.

But officials concede that is no longer possible, given the depth of differences between key members of the organisation. The United States, Brazil, Australia and other countries blame the EU for the impasse, saying it must go further with its offers on farm import tariff cuts. However, the European Commission remains under pressure from France the staunchest defender of Europes protections for its farmers not to make further concessions. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters on Monday he had repeated in the meeting that Paris would not allow the Commission to exceed the negotiating mandate that EU member states gave Brussels for the talks.