By Boyd Champness

AUSTRALIAS farm leaders have accused the European Union and Japan of intentionally overloading the Seattle trade talk agenda with too many points for discussion.

The worlds trading nations now appear highly unlikely to agree on the agenda for next months Millennium Round trade negotiations before ministers meet in Seattle in less than a fortnight to launch the round.

Australia and other “fair trading” countries desperately want the rest of the world to embrace liberalised trade, cutting the annual A$465 billion (£183bn) cost of protection.

If everything goes to plan, Australia could benefit by as much as A$7.5 billion a year.

But in a perhaps frightening precursor of what may lay ahead, a ministerial declaration to be signed in Seattle, setting out the scope, time frame and rules governing the new round of trade negotiations for the 134 member countries, has been hampered by political and bureaucratic manoeuvring.

“As we speak, the declaration has blown out to 36 pages, and its growing,” National Farmers Federation trade spokesman Mr Lyall Howard told The Weekly Times last week.

The final wording of the declaration will be negotiated by the ministers themselves, chiefly the US Agriculture Secretary, Mr Dan Glickman – backed up by Australias Trade Minister and leader of the Cairns Group, Mr Mark Vaile – and the European Unions trade commissioner, Mr Pascal Lamy.

But according to The Age newspaper, the Cairns Group and the EU are at loggerheads over one crucial point in the wording of the text for agriculture.

Australia and the Cairns Group are calling for the trade round to focus on bringing agricultural trade under the same rules as manufactured goods.

By contrast, the European Union and Japan, backed by Norway and Switzerland, are insisting that the text emphasise the “multi-functionality” of agriculture: that is, the social and environmental goals served by maintaining large populations on the land.

The Australian Government said last week that the EU and Japan were trying to deflect attention from their continuing protection of 2% of their populations involved in agriculture.

Studies show the EUs Common Agricultural Policy ties up A$65 billion a year.