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Tensions Over Agriculture Text Emerge At WTO

Tensions Over Agriculture Text Emerge At WTO Meeting

PRESS RELEASE

11 November 2001

TENSIONS OVER AGRICULTURE TEXT EMERGE AT WTO MEETING

The World Trade Organisation draft declaration was not ambitious enough on agricultural trade reform, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

Mr Sutton told the heads of delegation session at the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, that agriculture was of vital importance to New Zealand.

"New Zealand survives by trade. Agriculture amounts for about 60 per cent of New Zealand's total exports."

Mr Sutton said that a consensus accepting the need for liberalisation of international agricultural trade had been building during the meeting. The Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations (which New Zealand belongs to) and most developing nations at the WTO meeting felt strongly that liberalisation of agriculture trade was fundamental to a new round of international trade negotiations.

The United States of America was supportive of it, and Japan - previously unwilling to contemplate the prospect - had indicated it could live with the language in the draft declaration. However, today the European Union, which speaks on behalf of all its member countries at the WTO had rejected that language and would not accept any text that referred to the "elimination" or "phasing out" of trade-distorting agricultural export subsidies. Under WTO rules, all members must accept all the proposed text, or a new round of international trade negotiations cannot be launched. "If one side does not back down, or a compromise is not reached, by tomorrow afternoon, that means that the pressure is really going to come on. Delegates will have to work intensely for the next few days and it could go down right to the wire."

He said that most of the clauses on agriculture in the draft declaration were probably not far from where eventual consensus would be found.

However, New Zealand still had concerns about the draft, and other members shared those concerns.

"First, the overall level of ambition is disappointing. The Uruguay Round was a good start down the road to creating a fair and market-oriented agricultural trading system, but it was only a beginning.

"We should raise the level of ambition in the three key areas of reform - market access, export competition, and domestic support. Without a good market access outcome, including one that addresses tariff peaks and escalations, we can't seriously call this a development round. We need to finally see an end to the systematic discrimination against agriculture.

"Export subsidies undermine the ability of unsubsidized products to compete fairly. They directly damage the interests of efficient agricultural exporters and particularly developing countries. The vast majority of members have called for their expeditious elimination.

"In our view, the text simply must refer to "substantial reductions of export subsidies leading to elimination over a short period"."

Mr Sutton told the 141 other ministers attending the meeting that because of the vital importance of agriculture to New Zealand, New Zealand should be included in all relevant consultations at the meeting.

The Doha meeting began at 5.30pm on November 9 (3.30am November 10 NZ time) and was opened by the Emir of Qatar. It runs till November 13.

ENDS


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