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Tokyo meeting adds impetus to WTO negotiations

The World Trade Organisation mini-ministerial meeting, which finished in Tokyo yesterday, maintained momentum in multilateral negotiations, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton said today.

He said he was confident that the 22 countries involved would continue to work together and with other WTO Members to meet the agenda agreed at Doha in 2001.

"We have a challenging timetable that we all remain committed to achieving.

"The meeting also showed that agricultural trade liberalisation remains at the centre of the negotiations this is a good sign for New Zealand."

Mr Sutton said the meeting provided an opportunity for ministers to have a first look at a draft paper setting out details of the agriculture negotiation. The paper was prepared by WTO agriculture Chairman Stuart Harbinson.

"All Ministers at the meeting agreed the paper provided a catalyst for further discussions in Geneva. The overwhelming majority of countries including New Zealand accepted the paper as a base to add more improvements in market opening, greater reductions in domestic subsidies and a faster elimination of export subsidies. A few countries led by the European Union refused to accept the paper as a starting point claiming it was 'politically flawed' and 'unbalanced'".

"I hope they will think again", Mr Sutton said.

"Balance and political acceptability will be found in the totality of the Doha agenda, not within any single sector. Without a good agricultural outcome there will be no Doha Development round and millions in developing countries will be denied the opportunity to trade their way out of poverty. As one developing country Minister said at the meeting the farm support policies of rich countries like the EU and US were 'burying our agriculture'.

"I know that delegates from the EU and Japan have to been seen to be fighting for their farmers, but time is short. Those countries should look hard at the actual proposal by Harbinson and negotiate on facts and not rhetoric."

WTO Members will comment formally on the draft at meeting in Geneva later this month. New Zealand will be pushing for a better outcome especially in terms of faster export subsidy elimination, more market access and steeper cuts in trade-distorting domestic support.

"No-one is fully satisfied with Harbinson's draft, but we were not in Tokyo to endorse or reject it. It's a necessary step in the process in the lead-up to the next official WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico in September."

Mr Sutton said ministers also discussed the progress being made in the non-agriculture and services areas.

"Fish and forest products and services are extremely important for New Zealand. We are looking to also achieve a significant outcome is these areas. I was particularly encouraged by the degree of support we received from a number of countries on the important issue of fish subsidies, where we have been advocating a 'win-win-win' approach which delivers economic, environmental and social benefits."

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