Call for end to export refunds

FREE TRADING agricultural nations have called again for an early end to the use of export subsidies by the EU.

It should be part of a final deal under the Doha Development Round of world trade talks, said Mark Vaile, chairman of the Cairns Group  and Australian trade minister.

“The Cairns Group has long argued for equal treatment for agriculture, along with other sectors such as industrials and services which have seen significant liberalisation,” he said during the meeting in Columbia.

“Farmers need markets that are not corrupted by the subsidies and protectionist practices of a few rich countries.”

Last year, Brussels negotiators indicated they would be willing to phase out these subsidies – a key mechanism for bridging the gap between EU prices and lower world prices – though gave no clue as to the timescale.

Mr Vaile urged “leadership and flexibility” from EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns, who were both present, to secure a framework deal by December.

But the difficulties that lie ahead are considerable.

A recent negotiating session in Geneva had to be suspended because of deep divisions about how to convert existing border tariffs into uniform “ad valorem” tariffs, based on a percentage of each product’s value.

This was supposed to be wrapped up by the end of March, in order to present the figures to WTO members later this month. But that deadline appears to be slipping.