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Time for protectionists to stop foot-dragging on agriculture

Trade and Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton today called for agricultural protectionists in Europe and in North Asia to bring a new attitude to the WTO negotiations.

Mr Sutton said that Europe and Japan simply had to come to the party in a meaningful way. He was responding to a revised draft of the framework for a deal on agriculture, issued yesterday in Geneva by Stuart Harbinson, the Chair of the WTO agriculture negotiations.

"This draft has not moved far from the first draft which appeared 5 weeks ago. This is no reflection on the author. It simply reflects the fact that there is still a big gap between those who want an ambitious outcome and those who want a minimal result on agriculture in the Doha Round."

Mr Sutton said there could be only one way to narrow that gap, and that was for Europe, Japan and others to meet their responsibilities as all agreed at Doha in November 2001.

"Some countries are continuing to argue for extensive flexibility to continue to favour their most heavily protected agricultural sectors, at everyone else's expense. These positions have to be rejected as inadequate.

"What we want to see is faster elimination of export subsidies, genuine improvements in market access, and deeper and more tightly defined cuts in domestic farm subsidies.

"This can’t be done by tinkering at the margins of reform. Ministers recognised this in the Doha mandate. It needs genuine commitment to freeing up world markets. Only then will those most dependent on agriculture - efficient agricultural producers such as New Zealand, and the farmers and consumers in developing countries - be able to realise their trade potential."

Mr Sutton said that there would be a further round of negotiations next week in Geneva. New Zealand will be an active participant in these negotiations.

"New Zealand is ready to work constructively in an effort to meet the deadline of 31 March 2003 for the 'establishment of modalities’ that is, the establishment of a framework outcome on agriculture."

He called for all WTO members to bring the same sense of commitment to achieving what was agreed at Doha less than 18 months ago.

"The foot-dragging must stop."

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