Trade ministers to tackle Seattle stalemate

3 December 1999

Trade ministers to tackle Seattle stalemate

By Philip Clarke

WORLD trade ministers are set to reconvene in Seattle for a final push towards an accord on agricultural reform.

The aim is to spell out precise objectives for the so-called Millennium round of World Trade Organisation talks designed to free up world food trade.

But after three days of talks, the main trading blocs – the European Union, US and Cairns Group – are still stuck in their entrenched positions.

A compromise text already discussed has the EU at loggerheads with the other two over whether export subsidies should be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.

The EU also wants the final Seattle declaration, to take account of the special demands of consumers, environmentalists and welfarists in Europe.

But the US and Cairns Group see this as a smokescreen for more protectionism.

Concluding proceedings on Thursday, (2 December), agriculture chairman, George Yeo from Singapore said he was walking a tightrope, being pulled in all directions.

But he would produce a final compromise text for Friday, aiming to cut a path between the various factions.

“Agriculture is a difficult subject and it will be impossible to please everyone,” said Mr Yeo.

But he added that Seattle was only about launching the millennium round, which is expected to last three years.
Seattle insiders were predicting a joint position would be reached but would have to be sufficiently woolly so as not to upset anybody.