Peter Mandelson does not rule out further farm concessions at Hong Kong Summit if pace of negotiations speeds up

Original Publication Date: 
20 November, 2005

Brussels, 21/11/2005 (Agence Europe) - EU foreign ministers were briefed on 21 November by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson on progress in WTO trade talks less than three weeks ahead of the Hong Kong WTO Summit. The Council repeated its conclusions of 18 October 2005 on the European Commission's pledge to keep Member States fully and transparently informed about how the talks were progressing within the mandate given by the Council. In this connection, the Council welcomed the Commission's confirmation that cotton will be negotiated based on the 1 August 2004 Geneva Agreement. The Council also confirmed the objective of a balanced and ambitious agreement under the Doha Development Round, expressing support for negotiating an ambitious development package. During the discussion of development issues, Greece said it was a shame cotton was not included in the farm package but had been added to 'development' without Member States being informed. The Council said it would be holding a special meeting during the Hong Kong Summit (the way it had in Doha, Ed.).

After the meeting, European Commissioner Peter Mandelson spoke to a handful of reporters, welcoming the ministers' strong backing. 'There really was a genuine sense of unity and cohesion which I welcomed because previously you could see different emphases being placed on different directions and different parts of the offer that we made,' he explained, adding: 'There was also universal unity in calling for the main negotiating partners to reciprocate to the offer that we made.' On Monday evening, Peter Mandelson was meeting EU trade ministers for an informal dinner before travelling to Geneva on Tuesday to meet with US Trade Secretary, Rob Portman, Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, and Indian trade minister, Kamal Nath, for a crucial G4 meeting under the watchful eye of WTO Director General, Pascal Lamy. Peter Mandelson said it would not be possible to agree by December on all the facts and figures of the overall Doha Round agreement and for that reason, the focus should now be on the development package which has to 'be a top-up, not a substitute', 'to give a human face to the negotiations.'

What was new in the most recent meeting between the Trade Commissioner and EU foreign ministers before the Hong Kong Summit was Peter Mandelson's seemingly contradictory statement that 'I have no intention of making any further proposal on agriculture tariff reduction before Hong Kong as others are demanding. We will continue to advocate our position in this area and we will elaborate our treatment of sensitive products. But if the momentum of the negotiations were to accelerate, we would need to be in a position to engage further on agriculture as on other issues at some point - either at Hong Kong or after - but obviously within the limits of the negotiating mandate.' When unveiling the EU's ultimate farm negotiating proposal on 28 October, Peter Mandelson said the Commission had reached the limits of its mandate. At a press conference, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on Monday that any new EU farm offer would have to avoid any further CAP reforms if it were to remain within the Council's mandate.

Meeting in Pusan (South Korea) on Saturday, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries called on their WTO partners to find a way out of the current farm talks deadlock. South Korean foreign minister, Ban Kimoon said the ball was now in Europe's court. Echoing Mexican President Vicente Fox, who accused France and Spain of being the countries most reticent about making new farm concessions, several APEC leaders said Europe was to blame for the breakdown in the negotiations.