EU trade chief slams drafts for key WTO meeting

Original Publication Date: 
23 November, 2005

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's top trade negotiator said on Thursday draft negotiating texts drawn up this week for a World Trade Organisation meeting in December were inadequate, a latest sign of the deep divisions plaguing the talks.

"The reports emerging from the negotiating groups would lead to a further unbalancing of the (WTO) round if left as they are," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a statement.

The European Union has come under fire from some of the world's other trading powers -- such as the United States, Brazil and Australia -- for refusing to make deep enough cuts to its farm import tariffs.

But Brussels says it has gone as far as it can, given the refusal of member states such as France to get rid of Europe's protections for farmers, and other countries must now make concessions in areas such as industrial goods and services.

"Almost all of the texts are unsatisfactory and the one on services is particularly disappointing," Mandelson said in his statement on Thursday.

"We need targets in the area of services, as in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, or we will get nowhere."

The 148 members of the WTO are due to meet in Hong Kong between Dec. 13 and 18.

Negotiators have given up on hopes that the meeting could produce a detailed blueprint for a full, new WTO round which will now have to be hammered out in 2006 instead.

If next year's talks continue to stumble the round could collapse altogether, given the expiry in mid-2007 of the U.S. president's powers to approve free trade deals with only minimal involvement by Congress.

The round was launched in 2001 as a way of boosting the global economy and helping some of the world's poorest nations.