Associated France Press (AFP) 22/9/2006
EU, US and Japan all flag concessions to save trade talks
by Malcolm Burgess
CAIRNS, Australia (AFP) - The European Union, United States and Japan said they were willing to give ground to save global trade talks provided all parties in the negotiations also offered concessions.
The three trading superpowers -- who have all faced criticism for resisting moves to remove agricultural trade barriers -- made their commitments separately on the sidelines of a meeting of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters in this northern Australian resort town.
Carlo Trojan, EU ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, said Brussels would do all it could to ensure a multilateral trade deal was completed next year although he rated the chance of success 50-50 at best.
Responding to a call from WTO chief Pascal Lamy for major players to wring concessions from their politically-powerful farm lobbies, Trojan said EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has a mandate from the EU's 25 member states.
"He considers that he has a mandate that makes it possible for him to stretch our position quite considerably as he did in July this year," Trojan told reporters.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab also displayed a willingness to compromise if it would save the WTO Doha Round of negotiations, which was suspended in July amid a bitter EU-US rift on farm subsidies and tariffs.
"We've also indicated that our proposal is negotiable, that we are prepared to do even more in terms of cutting domestic support (subsidies) than we have on the table if, and when, there is significantly more market access on the table," she told reporters at the same meeting.
Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said Tokyo would make further sacrifices if the US and Cairns Group members offered deeper cuts.
"If we are able to see such concession from such countries then Japan would also be making the effort to make further contributions," he told reporters through a translator.
Trojan said Mandelson would visit Washington next week to explain Europe's position to US political leaders and farm lobbyists ahead of mid-term Congressional elections in November.
The US Congressional elections could determine if the Bush administration's overall mandate to negotiate trade deals is extended or expires in mid-2007, which would effectively shelve the WTO Doha Round talks for up to three years.
"Obviously, having invested so deeply in this we want to see a successful outcome," he said. "We realise that it's important the US and the EU come closer to each other.
Trojan said the EU's position was that Washington needed to alter its position on domestic support.
"That is a precondition for unlocking the deadlock," he said.
Trojan said there was still a "small window of opportunity" to complete the Doha Round before the end of 2007.
"This is completely speculative but I'm an optimist and I'm close to retirement, so I'll put it at 50 percent," he said of prospects for a deal.
US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said his country had already made major concessions on subsidies in an offer tabled last October and had not received a similar response on market access from the EU.
Johanns said he would have a simple message for Mandelson when he visited Washington: "The European Union needs to open up its marketplace."
The Doha Round of talks was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 and was supposed to deliver a global agreement on reducing agricultural and industrial trade barriers by 2004 but dragged on until its suspension in July.
The Cairns Group's 18 members extended their meeting to include US, EU Japanese and WTO officials this week in a bid to revive the flatlining global trade talks.