22 October 1999

Shots traded in build-up to talks

By Philip Clarke

WITH less than six weeks to go before the next round of world trade talks gets under way in Seattle, the war of words between the two main protagonists has stepped up a gear.

In a stinging attack on US policy-makers, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler said their barrage of criticism of the common agricultural policy was "grossly misleading" and "totally unfounded".

"The CAP is not responsible for the difficulties being experienced by US farmers, or farmers anywhere else in the world," he said.

Dr Fischlers comments follow claims by US trade representative, Charlene Barchefsky that the EU had "very little interest in agricultural trade reform", and complaints by agriculture secretary Dan Glickman that EU export subsidies had driven down world prices.

"These attacks are reminiscent of the rhetoric pumped out during the Uruguay round," said Dr Fischler. "They are a clear attempt to distract public attention from their reluctance to include in the new WTO round sectors which are politically sensitive in the US."

While the US "harped on" about the level of EU export refunds, this ignored the fact they accounted for a small and declining share of the agricultural budget, in accordance with the last GATT agreement. "The US, on the other hand, continues to increase its export assistance through export credits and has continually blocked any approach to impose multilateral controls on them," said Dr Fischler.

He also targeted the recently agreed emergency aid package, (due to be signed by president Bill Clinton this week), which will put another $8.7bn (£5.3bn) into US farmers pockets – about $4350 (£2640) each.

This will take the total US farm spend to over $60bn (£36bn), compared with the $40bn (£26bn) paid out in the EU. "This comparison is all the more significant when one considers that the EU has over 7m farmers, while the US has less than 2m," said Dr Fischler. But Ms Barchefsky has warned that the EU will face tremendous pressure in the WTO talks, as the US seeks to eliminate export subsidies, ensure market access for genetically modified crops and reduce trade distorting domestic supports. &#42