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EU delaying tactics threaten trade talks

EU delaying tactics threaten success of trade talks

Foot-dragging over technicalities by the European Union could cause world trade talks to fail this year, said international agency Oxfam today. An informal meeting of trade ministers in Paris this week, including New Zealand Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton, is trying to resolve how to convert agricultural tariffs into percentage form. Oxfam warned that delays caused by disagreements over this technical issue were jeopardizing the likelihood of a successful outcome later in the year.

Oxfam New Zealand Executive Director Barry Coates described the behaviour of the European Union, which is resisting genuine reform to its protectionist tariffs for agricultural products, as a potential deal-breaker. "For all its rhetoric on development and multilateralism, the EU, which maintains high peaks in its agricultural tariffs, is proving to be as selfish as anyone. This technical issue should have been resolved months ago but because certain countries want to protect their short-term self-interest it has dragged on and on. The interests of agriculture lobbying groups in the EU are obstructing progress on the issues that affect the vast majority of farmers (97%) who live in the developing world. It is time their issues, such as the right to food security, were taken into account," said Coates.

"This is not the time for political power play or tit-for-tat negotiations," said Coates. "We are at a crucial stage in the talks. Although the WTO Ministerial in Hong Kong in December seems a long way off, the negotiations are stalled at the starting line. The lives of millions of poor people depend on these negotiations but they are being held hostage by the selfishness of a few rich countries."

Members are trying to agree on how to express all import duties as percentages in order to be able to compare them accurately. This is an essential step before they can agree how much to cut tariffs, which they have committed to doing as part of the Doha round of WTO talks. Discussions have been going on since January and were expected to be resolved much sooner but broke down again last week without agreement. Negotiators will try again to find a solution at this week's meeting on the sidelines of the OECD ministerial in Paris.

Oxfam also criticized the lack of transparent process in WTO negotiations and the tradition of big, powerful members clubbing together to reach deals that they then foist on poorer countries. The WTO is meant to be a democratic institution in which the interests of all 148 members are equally represented but in reality the richer members wield more power and benefit from the system disproportionately.

Coates: "The last WTO Ministerial in Cancun collapsed because the EU and its allies overloaded the agenda with issues that were in their own commercial interests. Poor countries were being asked to accept the unacceptable. If the EU and US don't start working in good faith for a pro-poor outcome, the Ministerial meeting in Hong Kong will be a repeat of the debacles of Seattle and Cancun. It is no longer acceptable for the EU and US to refuse to make necessary reforms and then blame developing countries for the lack of an agreement."

© Scoop Media

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