West fights for access to markets

Posted in Other | 08-Nov-05 | Author: James Kanter| Source: International Herald Tribune

European Union (EU) trade commissioner Peter Mandelson arrives at India House in London.
LONDON With just weeks to go before a summit meeting on global trade, European and U.S. officials on Monday called for improved access to developing markets while countries like India and Brazil renewed pleas for deeper cuts in farm subsidies by rich nations.

In the wood-paneled rooms of India House in Central London, representatives from five trading partners - Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the United States - sought during a working session, and then over an elaborate Indian buffet dinner, to rescue negotiations for a new global agreement before the Dec. 13-18 meeting of all 148 World Trade Organization members in Hong Kong.

"Unless we take action and do so decisively in the next couple of days," Rob Portman, the U.S. trade representative, said, "we will have lost an opportunity to really make progress in Hong Kong."

The discussions - primarily over subsidies for farm goods and tariffs - were scheduled to continue on Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva.

The mood in London was subdued, with developing countries continuing to accuse rich nations of using subsidies and tariffs to skew the market. Meanwhile the EU and the United States said they would continue to push developing countries to open up their markets to goods and services from computer chips to telecommunications to banking.

The European trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, called for "balanced progress" and sought to move the focus away from controversy over agriculture subsidies. "Where we haven't made progress is in the other areas of these talks, in industrial goods, services," he said.

Mandelson said that if agriculture "continues to keep everything else blocked at the gate, we cannot get to Hong Kong in the shape we need."

Portman said Washington "will be standing with the EU tonight" on the issue of opening up access to developing world markets in exchange for easing support for U.S. farmers.

The commerce and industry minister of India, Kamal Nath, poured cold water on further market-opening measures without more cuts in the way rich countries use "artificial prices" to support their agricultural industries.

"What's being sought are subsidy flows and not trade flows," Nath said.

Brazilian officials also fiercely resisted richer countries' market-opening measures and were instead seeking far greater concessions on farm supports, one person familiar with the talks said.

The Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said he had told Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that opening up Brazilian markets to foreign goods and services "will be proportionate to what we get here in agricultural market access," The Associated Press reported.

Narrowing the EU's scope for negotiation is France's outright opposition of to further agriculture concessions. Mandelson told BBC Radio earlier Monday that Paris had no veto over "the negotiating tactics I employ" in the trade talks. But Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France retorted that the existing EU farm subsidy offer already overstepped the mandate Mandelson had, "and that is very worrying."