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Missed WTO Agriculture Deadline

World Trade Organisation members have missed an important deadline, Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton confirmed today.

Mr Sutton said agriculture reforms were vital to New Zealand, developing countries and others in the WTO. All members were going to have to make much more strenuous efforts to get an ambitious outcome, he said. WTO members failed to reach agreement on the framework for agriculture reform by the 31 March deadline.

He said that, at Doha in 2001, he and fellow WTO Ministers had set an ambitious mandate for the negotiations in recognition that fundamental reform was essential for wealthy industrialised countries and struggling developing countries alike.

"Agriculture is central to the round, and central to the prosperity of developing countries and that of New Zealand. Reform makes sense for everyone. So I'm very disappointed that our trading partners could not find the political will to reach agreement by the deadline."

Mr Sutton said New Zealand, as a member of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations, has been actively pushing for an outcome in line with the Doha mandate, which calls for substantial improvements in market access, the elimination of export subsidies, and substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support.

"Chairman Harbinson has put draft modalities on the table that go some way to meeting the mandate. We are ready to negotiate on that text. But some WTO Members, especially the Europeans and Japan, are not prepared to move beyond their old protectionist positions.

"I know that some countries have found it difficult to show flexibility because they are focused on internal policy processes right now. But New Zealand and many others, especially developing countries, are vitally dependent on agriculture. We simply cannot afford to wait. Frankly, the huge levels of agriculture support and protection so staunchly defended by wealthy industrialised countries are a disgrace."

Looking ahead, Mr Sutton said New Zealand remained committed to the process and would be prepared to keep working to improve the Chairman's text.

"We have to keep faith with the level of ambition in the mandate. New Zealand intends to continue to do everything we can to maintain the deadlines and commitments of the wider Doha agenda." He called for all WTO Members to do the same.

"It is inevitable that there will be a negative impact across the whole WTO Round from this failure. It is in all of our interests to get agriculture back on track as quickly as possible."

Ministers are due to meet again at the 5th WTO Ministerial Conference in Cancún, Mexico, from 10 to 14 September this year. According to the original timetable set at Doha, WTO Members are expected to table draft agriculture commitments in Schedules based on the modalities by that meeting. That is now in doubt.

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