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Minister welcomes Geneva's agriculture progress

International trade officials have agreed this week to a work programme to reduce barriers to agricultural trade. The discussions will support efforts to launch a new round of world trade talks at the end of this year.

Minister for Trade Negotiations and Minister for Agriculture Jim Sutton today welcomed the decision to start work on tariffs, export subsidies, and food security issues, taken in Geneva yesterday by members of the World Trade Organisation's agricultural negotiating group.

The work programme agreed in Geneva calls for at least six sets of officials' talks in the next twelve months. Those talks will cover all aspects of agricultural trade, but will start on issues such as export subsidies, tariffs and food security.

"I am very pleased that negotiators have agreed to move the agricultural trade negotiations into the second phase", he said.

"While New Zealand is satisfied with the progress made since the beginning of negotiations one year ago, there remains a lot of work to be done to examine ways to achieve concrete results for our farmers and exporters."

The negotiations, which were mandated in the Uruguay Round, began in March last year. Since then, 44 negotiating proposals have been tabled on behalf of 125 individual WTO Members. New Zealand's positions are contained in the Cairns Group proposals, which call for the elimination of all forms of export subsidies, significant reductions in trade distorting domestic support and major improvements in market access opportunities.

Mr Sutton said world agricultural trade still remained highly distorted.

"Export subsidies amount to more than US$ 6.5 billion per year. Moreover, while we do not subsidise our farmers, a massive US$ 350 billion is paid to farmers by consumers and taxpayers annually in OECD member countries. There are tariffs of 300% or more applying to our agricultural exports in some markets. This is ludicrous.

"The WTO negotiations give us a chance to redress this situation. Reductions in these transfers to farmers in OECD countries will also help developing countries, for whom agriculture is often the key to economic growth."

Mr Sutton said any agreement on agricultural trade reform will not happen overnight in the WTO, but there was now a solid work programme for the next year.

"This, and a continuation of the constructive atmosphere in Geneva, is important. New Zealand will also be using the 4th WTO Ministerial Conference to give impetus to the agriculture negotiations," he said.

The 4th Ministerial Conference is due to take place in November in Qatar.

New Zealand believes that the Qatar meeting will see a new round of negotiations being initiated which, as well as encouraging progress in agriculture, will provide a forum for other New Zealand sectors to improve their trading opportunities.

ENDS

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