US, EU need to 'go further' on agriculture: Blair

Original Publication Date: 
14 November, 2005
LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged the United States and the European Union to "go further" on agriculture to make a success of next month's World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong.

"To break the logjam, the EU and the US must go further, within the negotiations, on agriculture," Blair said during his annual setpiece address at the Lord Mayor of London's banquet at the Guildhall.

"We must reduce trade distorting subsidies; we must see a credible end date for export subsidies; we must put an ambitious limit on the number of sensitive products that can be afforded extra protection," he added.

At the same time, he called on developing nations like Brazil and India to do more to open up their industrial and service sectors to foreign involvement.

Britain currently holds the rotating presidency for the Group of Eight leading industrial powers and the European Union.

But despite Blair's pledge to put the fight against poverty at the heart of the international political agenda, there are concerns Britain's presidency will end without agreement on relaxing trade barriers.

Blair said the Hong Kong talks were an opportunity to tackle "some of the fundamental injustices at the heart of world trade" and "create the conditions in which millions of people will have a chance to escape poverty".

This included reductions on farm subsidies in the United States and EU, which developing nations claim is the main hindrance to their access to Western markets, he added.

"Ultimately, agriculture accounts for under two percent of the GDP of rich countries and roughly the same share of employment," Blair told his audience in the heart of London's financial district.

"Can we afford to allow differences over support for agriculture in rich countries to block an agreement that could give renewed hoped to the one in five people in the world living on less than one dollar a day?

"And can we afford to weaken an international trading system on which future employment and prosperity in rich countries depends?"

Even a one-percent increase in Africa's share of world trade would benefit the continent by more than 70 billion dollars -- three times the aid increase agreed at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in July, Blair stated.

Europe, large developing countries and smaller developed nations would also see trade benefits from "comprehensive and ambitious" negotiations, he added.

Following on from the European Commission's commitment at Gleneagles to increase aid for trade to one billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) a year, Blair announced an increase in Britain's contribution.

British aid for trade would be trebled to 100 million pounds (173.7 billion dollars) a year by 2010, he announced, and challenged other G8 countries to follow suit before Hong Kong.

Blair also suggested that greater worldwide cooperation -- as shown at Gleneagles and if followed through -- could not only help fight poverty but also the threat from conflicts including global terrorism and climate change.

"Self interest and mutual interest are inextricably linked," he added. "National interests can best be advanced through collective action... We will reap what we sow; live with what we do not act to change."