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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
France snubs EU's trade talk plan
French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde
France says that Europe already has done plenty on trade
France has distanced itself from the EU's attempts to help secure a global trade agreement by 2006, claiming that the proposals go too far.

The argument has been simmering since Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson put forward plans for swingeing cuts in farm aid and trade subsidies.

France said he was overstepping his mandate and tried to limit his brief.

Paris has now said it "cannot accept" Mr Mandelson raising the issue at World Trade Organization talks in Geneva.

Group of one

The comments come after Mr Mandelson won the backing of EU trade ministers on Tuesday to continue negotiating on their behalf in the Doha round of world trade talks.

The Commission was unable today to show any clear proof that it remains within its mandate
French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde

France had complained that Mr Mandelson's offer to cut agricultural subsidies by 70% and its duties on farm goods by 60% - after the US had outlined a similar offer - did not have the approval of EU members.

Paris said the EU already had implemented significant agricultural reforms in 2003, as well as promising to abolish all export subsidies last year.

EU member states did not cede to French demands that Mr Mandelson's negotiating be overseen by a supervisory committee, although they did agree that ministers should be continually informed of what was happening.

After being rebuffed, France said that it wanted its experts to examine the EU's position.

Speaking on Wednesday, French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde told the country's national assembly that EU officials had failed to show that Mr Mandelson was operating within his mandate.

Long road

"The meeting of experts took place this morning, and the commission was unable today to show any clear proof that the commission remains within its mandate," Ms Lagarde said.

"As things stand, France therefore cannot support the commission in the agriculture proposals it has made."

WTO members are hoping to get a new global free trade agreement in place for the start of 2006, with Mr Mandelson leading the EU's negotiating team.

The farm subsidies issue has been coming to a head and will be near the top of the agenda when the WTO's 148 member nations gather in Hong Kong in December.

But many European farmers fear too much has already been given away in principle and want the Commission to take a tougher negotiating stance.


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