EU Urges WTO Countries To Stick To April Deadline

EU - Europe's trade chief urged World Trade Organization members on Monday to step up a gear to hit an April 30 deadline for agreement on key areas of a global trade deal and accused U.S. politicians of undermining the push.
calendar icon 11 April 2006
clock icon 4 minute read

Less than three weeks before the WTO's 149 members are supposed to agree on farm and industrial goods, a big chunk of the Doha round, there is little sign of a breakthrough.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said last week he was pessimistic the April 30 target could be met.

But EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said too many deadlines had already been missed in the round, launched more than four years ago in a bid to bring down barriers to trade around the world and help ease poverty.

"The EU believes it would be wrong to let up pressure on that deadline," Mandelson said after meeting EU foreign ministers.

"I believe everyone should redouble efforts to meet the end of April deadline and the EU is certainly committed to doing that."

But he reiterated that Europe's partners in the talks were either asking too much of the EU or offering too little to justify any flexibility on its existing proposals.

Europe has been accused by big agricultural exporters such as the United States, Brazil and Australia of offering far too little with its planned cuts to import tariffs for farm goods.

But Brussels says it has made a generous agriculture offer and Washington needs to go further with its cuts to farm subsidies, while big developing countries like Brazil and India must open their markets to goods such as cars and chemicals.

Mandelson said his message from EU ministers on Monday was "loud and clear": "The EU wants ambition for this round but there needs to be a similar level of ambition across the board."

France, which has previously criticized Mandelson over his agriculture offer, repeated it would accept no more concessions.

We consider it would be a risk (for the EU) to go beyond the offer made by the Commission," French European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna was quoted as saying during the ministers' meeting by diplomats who were present.


Mandelson described as "offensive" comments made by a leading member of the U.S. Congress, Bill Thomas, that the United States should part ways with the EU in the WTO talks and focus this year instead on bilateral free-trade deals.

"The (European) Commission and the Council (of EU ministers) are hearing voices elsewhere, notably in the U.S. Congress, who are putting into question the level of confidence in this round," Mandelson said. "These are untimely interventions."

In a letter to the Financial Times on Monday, Thomas reiterated comments made last week that the United States should seek bilateral and regional trade deals but "every ounce of liberalization" should also be squeezed from the WTO talks.

The U.S. lawmaker, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, said the EU was dragging down the negotiations.

Mandelson said Thomas seemed to be "attempting to strong-arm developing countries" into opening their economies as much as possible, and bilateral deals would not match the welfare gains achievable in a multilateral deal.

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