This week’s suspension of the Doha Development Round of world trade talks has been welcomed by farm lobbyists, who insist that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
“Frankly, the impact of the latest proposals [to reduce farm support and open up markets] would have been potentially disastrous for European agriculture,” said Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey.
“Europe already has a very proactive approach to developing nations,” he added.
“What we should now be doing is looking at how to create a viable future for European agriculture.
For example, our local dairy industry needs time to restructure and our beef industry must be protected from inferior imports.”
NFU chief economist Carmen Suarez said that the NFU would have accepted a balanced deal in which all parties were prepared to compromise.
But, while the EU had already reformed the CAP to make it non-trade distorting, and was offering more on market access, the USA was not prepared to reduce its domestic farm supports.
“That’s the big problem and it’s only fair to lay the blame at the USA’s door,” she said.
The collapse of the talks followed another protracted negotiating session in Geneva last weekend among the so-called “group of six” – the EU, the USA, Australia, India, Brazil and Japan.
The decision to suspend the whole Round was made by WTO director general Pascal Lamy.
“We have missed a very important opportunity to show that multilateralism works,” he told journalists on Monday (24 July).
“There are no winners and losers in this assembly.
Today there are only losers.”
The USA was quick to defend its stance, despite being blamed by four of the six members of the G6 for the impasse.
Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns said the EU was at fault for offering so little on market access.
“The current tariff for high quality beef in the EU is 80%,” he said.
“Under the [EU] proposal the new tariff would be 61%.
That is still a remarkable blocking of the market.”
Mr Johanns was particularly incensed that, with the EU looking to extend “sensitive product” status to beef, there would also be an import quota of just 160,000t.
“That’s two per cent of the market.”
But EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson pointed out that the EU had shown a real willingness to go further on its market access.
“To raise our envisaged average farm tariff cut from 39% to 50% is hardly putting nothing on the table,” he told journalists in Brussels on Tuesday (25 July).
“The EU could not have made more effort into making these talks a success.
The USA showed no flexibility at all on domestic subsidies in agriculture.”
Indeed, Mr Mandelson indicated that the USA’s proposals to revamp its domestic farm supports would allow it to actually increase its overall level of spending.