31 March 2000

Timetable set for farm trade negotiations

A CLEAR timetable for negotiations on farm trade was established when World Trade Organisation talks on agriculture finally kicked off in Geneva late last week.

The plan is to hold preliminary meetings in June, September and November this year, with firm proposals for greater liberalisation to be ready in 12 months time. Full implementation is not expected until 2003, however.

Although the intention is to start the talks with a clean sheet, the three protagonists – the EU, the US and the Cairns Group – repeated their well-rehearsed positions at last weeks session.

The EU called for a wide- ranging reform, respecting the diverse nature of European farming. "We have to strike the right balance between progressive reductions in support and protection, and non-trade concerns," said a commission statement.

The US stressed the importance of improving market access for its bio-tech products, while the Cairns Group again called for the elimination of all export subsidies.

Given the acrimony between the three parties in the immediate aftermath of the collapsed Seattle summit last December, even agreeing a timetable was something of an achievement, said observers.

But selecting a chairman for the forthcoming meetings was more of a challenge, with the EU refusing to accept the appointment of a Brazilian, Celso Amorim, on the grounds he comes from a Cairns Group country. &#42