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Showdown on Agriculture put off for another day

12 November 2001 Media Statement

Showdown on Agriculture put off for another day

Intense consultations to find a way around the standoff between the European Union and most other World Trade Organisation members over the draft declaration text on agriculture would continue for at least another day, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton, speaking from the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, where members are meeting to try to agree a text to form the basis of a new round of world trade negotiations, said that agriculture was proving to be a deal-breaker for many countries.

"We have heard moving speeches from ministers of developing nations who see liberalised market access for agricultural products as the only way they have of improving the living standards of their citizens. Agriculture is the key industry for most developing nations and they need to be able to sell their products in the markets of rich nations if they are to become richer themselves."

Mr Sutton said agriculture was also important to developed countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, which were heavily reliant on agricultural export trade.

"Several ministers in the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations have said they cannot go home unless there is some commitment in the final text to negotiate on phasing out export subsidies."

He said that the United States supported the inclusion of the "phasing out export subsidies" phrase, and Japan - a traditional opponent of moves to reduce subsidies - had indicated it could live with the phrase being included in the final text.

The European Union, however, was adamant that the phrase had to be dropped from the text. Under WTO rules, all members must accept all the proposed text, or a new round of international trade negotiations cannot be launched. Meetings on issues and potential solutions to the standoff were continuing through the night in Doha.

Ministers and their delegations have till Tuesday evening (Wednesday morning NZ time) to reach agreement. The Doha WTO meeting finishes on November 13.


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