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EU proposal on agriculture finalised

Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton today welcomed the finalisation of the European Union proposal for the World Trade Organisation agriculture negotiations in Geneva, commenting that the negotiations could actually start to move forward at last.

He sounded a note of caution, however, on the formidable task facing WTO members in bridging the gaps in their positions.

"When I met with my fellow WTO Ministers in Doha in 2001, we all agreed that we needed to make some ambitious reforms in agriculture. Regrettably, what the EU is proposing falls short of that mandate. It is a long way from what most WTO Members are seeking."

Mr Sutton said the work of trying to find common ground was now under severe time pressure. The EU proposal goes to Geneva only two months ahead of the 31 March deadline for establishing the 'modalities' (the framework of new commitments on tariffs, subsidies and other elements).

"We have had over two years of rhetoric. It's now time to get down to business. The Doha mandate is clear that the modalities must deliver a comprehensive and ambitious reform in market access, export subsidies and domestic support, with appropriate flexibility for developing countries.

"The Doha mandate is also clear that our deadline for the modalities is 31 March 2003.

Mr Sutton said the modalities phase was not the end of the agriculture negotiations. "Work will continue after March on other elements that do not need to be included in the modalities."

He said that in many areas the EC proposal did not measure up well against the Doha mandate.

"The EU has said that it might contemplate eliminating export subsidies on some products. But the price for that according to the EU would be that export subsidies on sensitive products, like dairy and beef, might not be touched. Elimination is certainly consistent with the Doha mandate ? but on all forms of export subsidies, and for all products."

Similarly, on market access and domestic support, Mr Sutton said that the flexibility that the EC is proposing would allow politically-sensitive sectors to escape the reform process.

"For example, the EU proposal would allow it to get away with minimal tariff reductions in politically-sensitive sectors, such as dairy and sugar, and no expansion at all of tariff-quota access. How does that stack up against our mandate of "substantial improvements in market access"?

Mr Sutton said that perhaps the most worrying aspect of the EU proposal was in the area of so-called 'non-trade concerns', such as geographical indications (the use of some food names) and an attempt to re-open some of the rules on quarantine and labelling.

"These EU non-trade concerns are important issues. But they are quite simply not covered by the Doha agriculture negotiating mandate and we should not allow ourselves to be distracted from the very difficult job ahead of us by these issues."

He said that he looked forward to working closely with other WTO Members, including the Cairns Group, the United States and developing countries, to bridge the gaps with the EU and others involved in the negotiations.

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