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Roadmap for WTO negotiations / Mandelson on Agricult

EU/EP/TWO: Hong Kong meeting will only allow roadmap for ending Doha Round negotiations - Mandelson accuses several agricultural exporting countries of blocking talks

Brussels, 23/11/2005 (Agence Europe) - Meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, the negotiators of the G4 (EU, United States, Brazil and India) plus Japan failed to reduce their differences of opinion on prospects of achieving, in Hong Kong, the ambitious objectives set by the 148 member countries of the WTO at the signature of the framework agreement on 1 August 2004.

In this way, the ministerial conference of December is likely only to be able to produce a "roadmap" to conclude the multilateral trade negotiations of the Doha Round before 2007.

"We must ensure that the December meeting leads to a road map indicating the path to follow in order to conclude the negotiations, and which contains as many elements as possible of a specific timetable", said the Indian trade Minister, Kamal Nath, speaking on behalf of the G4 after the meeting. "We want Hong Kong to be more than treading water.

It should lock on the progress made and put in place, as far as possible, a springboard for advance in 2006", said Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, in a press release. In the absence of agreement between the participating countries, Hong Kong is therefore unlikely to conclude two thirds of the negotiations of the Round, as the Director-General of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, had hoped. The draft blueprint text for the ministerial conference currently being drawn up by the services of the WTO is therefore unlikely to contain either proposals with figures, or other details.

Nonetheless, in a synthesis document on the latest European, American and G20 detailed proposals on agricultural matters, the President of the committee on agricultural negotiations at the WTO, Crawford Falconer of New Zealand, calls upon the parties to "take the opportunity to bring the negotiation process to an end" and obtain an agreement on the agricultural plank in Hong Kong because, he explained, "real progress has been made, particularly since the month of August".

Whether or not such an agreement is reached in December, the WTO partners must, as the EU urges them to do, agree on a "development" package providing for all the rich countries to apply the Community "Everything but Arms" programme (which allows the least developed countries, LDCs, to export to the EU without customs duties or quotas) and proposing a programme of development aid for infrastructure and commercial capacity for these countries, and specific action on a few key basic products, such as cotton, bananas and sugar.

Speaking before the committee on International trade of the European Parliament on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Mandelson criticised " the power of a handful of nations, which have forced all the partners at the WTO to remain focused on the agricultural plank". "I am talking of the interests of the net agricultural exporters, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Brazil", he thundered, calling on these countries to stop "sweeping aside" Europe's agricultural offer, without examining the details of it (particularly on the handling of sensitive products) and to "finally enter genuine negotiations on all planks", particularly manufactured goods and services. "We are far from where we should be in the process. For too long we have had too little to negotiate about. It is only recently that we have started to look beyond [agricultural negotiations]. Those who have forced the negotiation down this narrow path should reflect on this", protested Mr Mandelson to MEPs, who were won over by the firmness of his stance. "Our partners must adopt a broader approach, if we are to move forward. This process is not just about trade: it is about preserving the credibility of the WTO and multilateralism", said Mr Mandelson. Stressing that he had been the last to agree to reduce his expectations for Hong Kong, Mr Mandelson said that his ambitions for the development agenda remained intact and that he would defend the adoption of an ambitious "development" package including (apart from the above-mentioned measures) "conditions of improved access to cheaper medicines to fight pandemics".

On this point, French Socialist Harlem Désir called upon him to pledge to negotiate changes to the agreement on intellectual property rights (TRIPS) in Hong Kong, going beyond the agreement of 1 August 2004, in order to obtain the principle of a derogation to the mechanism of patent rights when public health is at stake (thus allowing the poorest countries freely to import generic medicines).

On the services plank of the negotiations, Mr Mandelson stated that the Union wants countries to "remain free to pursue national policy objectives and fully safeguard their right to regulate. All we ask is for equal treatment for foreign service suppliers in some sectors (particularly transport and telecommunications), not for a commitment to deregulate markets or privatise existing operators". In this field, " our approach does not relate to the poorest countries", he added. On this point, the Trade Commissioner had to fend off criticism from British Green Caroline Lucas, who accused the Union of "pushing a majority of countries who do not want to commit to the liberalisation of the services sector" to negotiate on this plank.

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