Farm ministers have issued a stern reminder to EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson not to exceed his negotiating mandate and give more away on agriculture as he presses for a final deal in the WTO.

Mr Mandelson told the European parliament’s trade committee on Monday (29 May) that he was “prepared to find ways to improve our offer on agriculture market access, to bring it closer to the requests made by the G20 group of (developing) countries”.

This group, which includes exporting countries like Brazil and India, has demanded an average 54% reduction in EU import tariffs, compared with the 39% offered by the EU Commission last October.

But EU farm ministers meeting in Austria for their six-monthly “informal” council at the start of the week urged Mr Mandelson to go no further, certainly not without a substantial move from other trade partners in reducing their domestic farm supports and export promotion activities.

October offer

French minister Dominique Bussereau was adamant that the October 2005 offer from Brussels was the most French farmers could stomach.

But the commission is under intense pressure from the USA to give even more on market access.

US deputy trade representative Peter Allgeier has warned that “small improvements in the agriculture market access would not be nearly sufficient for there to be new trade flows”.

The USA wants something closer to a 66% agricultural tariff cut by the EU.

Head of agricultural negotiations at the WTO, Crawford Falconer, plans to publish a new outline agreement on modalities – setting actual percentage cuts in import tariffs, domestic farm supports and export subsidies – by mid-June.

The latest target for a trade deal is the end of July.