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Global trade talks show signs of faltering as negotiators face 'mountain'; India takes tough stance

(Monday, July 12, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- GENEVA (AFP) - Trade ministers stepped up a campaign to overcome deadlock on agriculture at a meeting of developing countries, amid signs that attempts to revive global free trade talks by the end of this month were faltering.

"The work in front of us is the size of a mountain. Everybody is willing to make an effort but this is an uphill battle," Argentina's ambassador at the WTO in Geneva, Alfredo Chiaradia, told AFP.

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy were due to take part in the meeting of G90 developing nations in Mauritius, along with WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakhdi.

The 147 WTO members have set themselves an end July deadline to agree on the broad outline of the way ahead for the current round of trade liberalisation talks.

The meeting on the Indian Ocean island came hours after a weekend gathering of five trading powers ended in Paris without a breakthrough on the issue of agriculture, a major obstacle in the talks at the WTO.

Negotiations on the current trade round launched by ministers in Doha, Qatar in 2001 were meant to last three years, with a final accord on reducing trade barriers in key sectors at the end of 2004.

Supachai Panitchpakdi said on Monday that the main participants might lose interest if they could not see results by the beginning of next year.

He told the French La Tribune newspaper that a meeting of the WTO general council to be held in Geneva July 27 and 28 was "a historic opportunity and it would be deplorable if this is missed".

"The main participants in the round risk losing all motivation if they do not have a guarantee that it will end, as planned at the beginning of 2005.," Supachai added.

While Supachai noted "clear signs of political will", pointing to pledges by the US and EU in recent months to eliminate their subsidies for farm exports, trade rounds are notoriously laborious.

The previous Uruguay Round, which set up the WTO in 1995, was concluded years behind schedule, and the agricultural issue is a leftover from disagreement during those negotiations.

The informal meeting that ended in Paris Sunday brought together chief negotiators from Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India and the United States in an attempt to forge a common position on farm subsidies and tariffs.

"The meeting was useful and possibilities of covergence between the different points of view were identified," Brazilian trade minister Celso Amorim told journalists.

Like most of the other obstacles in the overall Doha trade round, the farming issue pits rich countries against poor countries.

Developing nations and agricultural exporters in the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters want industrialised states -- mainly the EU and US -- to get rid of subsidies that they blame for pricing their produce out of world markets.

There is also pressure to improve market access by bringing down tariffs imposed on agricultural imports to protect domestic farmers.

"I don't see the US moving on domestic support, I don't see the EU moving on market access, I don't see the light in many sectors," Chiaradia said.

Indian Trade Minister Nath Kamal underlined that talks on market access must take into account the basic needs of 600 million Indian subsistence farmers.

"Otherwise, it will not be possible," Kamal added.

EU officials gave a positive account but Lamy also warned in the French daily Le Figaro that "one should not expect a miracle".

The drive to overcome the deadlock that led to the collapse of a WTO ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in September 2003 has shifted to Mauritius, where the G90 were due to lay out a united front on agriculture.

The WTO chief agriculture negotiator has delayed a proposal for a compromise on the agriculture talks to take account of the outcome of the meetings.

India reiterates stance on agriculture at pre-WTO meet
By Ranvir Nayar, Indo-Asian News Service
Monday July 12, 9:25 AM

Paris, July 12 (IANS) India has maintained its tough stance on not sacrificing the livelihood of its 600 million farmers at discussions here to kick-start negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, who was here to take part in a pre-WTO discussion hosted by Brazil, said there had not been any change in India's position on WTO issues despite a change of government in Delhi.

Trade representatives from Australia, the European Union and the US also attended the discussions.

Kamal Nath said India would continue to defend the interests of its small and marginal farmers who depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

"This is not about commercial agriculture and not about profits, but about the livelihood of our farmers," Nath told IANS.

Analysts here said India's position on farming negotiations may have only hardened since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government has assumed power. They pointed out it had won mainly on the rural vote and the government could not afford to be seen as sacrificing the interests of its main constituency barely two months after coming to power.

Kamal Nath later met French Trade Minister Francois Loos and held discussions on bilateral trade and the way to boost relations. He left for the Mauritian capital of Port Louis to take part in the G-20 group meeting on WTO Monday-Tuesday.

The five countries that attended the Paris conclave constitute the agriculture working group that has been given a tough mandate by WTO secretary general Supachai Panitchpakdi for breaking the deadlock over agriculture to take the negotiations ahead.

The last ministerial conference of WTO members collapsed in Cancun last year following the European Union's refusal to end its export subsidies and to open the market for imports from the developing countries.

Since then, the leading players of the WTO, including India, have been trying to get the negotiations going. The Paris discussions were part of this effort.

However, though this is the third time that the five countries are meeting, there does not seem to have been much progress, with each of the five ministers contenting themselves in referring to the Paris meeting as "useful".

European Union trade commissioner Pascal Lamy hinted at the level of differences between the members of the group, saying much work remained ahead if there was to be any agreement to revive the Doha negotiations.

US trade representative Robert B. Zoellick said though there were convergences and potentialities for convergence, the challenge for the group remained immense. "However, the fact that we decided to meet itself proves our commitment to find a resolution to these issues," he said.

Brazilian Trade Minister Luis Fernando Furlan, who hosted the meeting, said the Paris meeting was not the final, but only part of a process. He, however, skipped a question on whether the group would be able to meet the deadline of reaching an agreement before the end of July in order to have a proposal at the Geneva gathering of WTO trade ministers.