EU makes ‘final’ trade offer to WTO

EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has tabled what she insists is her “final bottom line” offer to the World Trade Organisation ahead of crucial talks in Hong Kong in December.

Under the new proposal, the EU’s highest import tariffs would be cut by 60%, compared with the 50% offered last month.

Lesser tariff cuts would apply to less-protected products, resulting in an average tariff cut of 46% across all product lines.

The commission is also looking to provide “special treatment” to sensitive products.

These would account for a maximum 8% of all product lines, compared with 10% in its previous offer.

Mrs Fischer Boel has also repeated her offer to eliminate all export subsidies over time and cut remaining trade-distorting farm supports by 70%.

And the commission is stepping up its call for an international register of geographic indications (GIs) to protect EU products, such as Parma ham and Roquefort cheese, from cheap imitations.

Mrs Fischer Boel insisted she had achieved a “very skilful balance” between the objectives of substantially improving market access and avoiding the need for a new CAP reform.

“We need to get something in return,” she added, pointing in particular to the USA’s use of countercyclical payments to prop up its farmers and better access to the lucrative markets of the Far East.

But EU farming organisations have accused the commission of exceeding its negotiating mandate and jeopardising thousands of jobs in the food and farming sector.

“Some 15m people gain their livelihoods from farming in the EU25,” said Rudolf Schwarzbock, president of EU farm group COPA.

“It is unacceptable that the EU puts the jobs of these people at risk to enable the USA and other major exporters, like Brazil, to expand their share of the EU market.”

Irish Farmers’ Association president John Dillon said the proposal would open the doors to a flood of imports, leading to further price and income cuts.

But Third World lobby group Oxfam said the EU plan offered a “glimmer of hope” which could unblock the WTO talks at a crucial stage.

It wanted to know what “sensitive products” the EU was still seeking to protect.

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