15 March 2002

Europe makes bid to honour WTO deadline

INTENSIVE negotiations to open up agricultural markets and cut export supports have been signalled by EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, as he prepares to meet the timetable agreed for the Doha round of world trade talks.

"It is our responsibility to make good what we have decided in Doha," he said this week after meeting Stuart Harbinson, chairman of agricultural negotiations at the World Trade Organisation.

The Doha meeting in November 2001 agreed to "substantial improvements in market access" and "reductions of, with a view to phasing out, all forms of export subsidy". It was agreed to give WTO members until next year to make specific offers. The whole round should be wrapped up by the end of 2004.

"This means the next 12 months must see some very intensive negotiations," said Dr Fischler. "This demands more than continued repetition of opening positions. It takes a real spirit of give and take."

The EU has pursued a consistent policy of internal reform since 1992, he added, shifting support from products to producers.

"I believe we should use the mid-term review (of Agenda 2000) in June to redirect more EU money from the market organisations to rural development measures which are decoupled from production," said Dr Fischler.

"These subsidies are not trade distorting and would strengthen our position in the new round."

But this policy will be firmly resisted by EU farmer organisations. A new strategy paper from Brussels-based COPA-COGECA calls for the maintenance of the full range of price safety nets, supply controls, market management measures and direct aid payments.

"It should not be forgotten that, without price and market support, and with unchanged international prices, farmers incomes would fall by nearly a quarter," says the paper.

New funds should be used to strengthen the second pillar of support, according to COPA-COGECA.

"Border measures must also ensure that European standards are applied to imports. Where this is not possible, farmers must receive direct compensation to make it possible for them to meet these rules and maintain their competitive position." &#42