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Wednesday, 14 November, 2001, 08:12 GMT
'Last shot' at trade deal
Sudan crops
Agriculture could be the key to a deal
Ben Brown

Bleary-eyed ministers from 142 countries are meeting to consider the "final text" of an agreement that could launch a new round of world trade talks.

World Trade Organisation spokesman Keith Rockwell said that the draft was being presented on a "take it or leave it" basis as the "last best shot" to reach a deal.

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy
Pascal Lamy: The EU made last minute gains
Negotiators have worked through the night to find an acceptable draft agreement and overcome big remaining differences, after the trade talks overran their scheduled conclusion.

The European Union emerged as a big winner overnight, after making some concessions on agriculture.

Give and take

"It was clear from the very beginning that we have to give and to take also something," European agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler said.

"[Trade Commissioner] Pascal Lamy, and I myself, we recommend [EU ministers] to accept the text," he said.

In return for the EU's concessions, negotiators agreed to stronger language on trade and the environment, something very important to European public opinion.

"Things are going favourably, although we are not there yet," UK environment minister Michael Meacher told BBC News Online.

Croissants and sausages were sent in as rumours of the deal circulated among delegates attending the trade talks in the luxury Sheraton hotel, overlooking the sparkling waters of the Gulf.

Journalists woke from overnight sleep on chairs and sofas.

Objections

But developing countries may still raise objections to the plan.

An Indian delegate told the BBC that it is "very unhappy" about the expansion of trade talks to include competition and investment - something it had fought hard to eliminate.

World leaders have set high hopes on an agreement, in order to revive confidence in the world trading system as the world faces an economic slowdown.

And developing countries have already made some gains in the negotiations.

The trade negotiators earlier agreed a deal to help developing countries gain access to cheap medicines by easing patent laws should there be a health emergency.

Agriculture the key

The key to European Union gains in other areas was its readiness to accept compromise language to get a deal on agriculture.

Initially, the EU has been resisting pressure for an agreement in principle to phase out agricultural subsidies.

Other countries, especially from the Cairns group of agricultural exporting nations, have been pressing the EU to reduce its generous agricultural subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, worth $90bn a year.

They say the aim of negotiations should be a "substantial reduction in, with a view towards phasing out, agricultural export subsidies".

Now the EU has accepted this language, provided that it is accompanied by the words that "without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations."

Environment gains

In return, the EU wants to ensure that the issue of trade and the environment is firmly on the agenda for the next round of trade talks.

It has now got an commitment to an accelerated work programme in this area and the acceptance of national environmental impact statements as part of future trade deals.

There will also be discussion on eco-labelling, which may be illegal under current trade rules.

EU trade ministers are expected to approve the deal at a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council at the Intercontinental Hotel this morning.

But they may be forced to make further concessions to Thailand and the Philippines over the level of tariffs on tuna.

This was after both countries objected to a separate deal between the EU and the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, granting them trade preferences.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Walker
"We still cannot altogether rule out the possibility of the trade ministers leaving empty handed"
The BBC's Evan Davies
says that the difficult issues remain
See also:

13 Nov 01 | Business
WTO confirms drugs deal
08 Nov 01 | Business
Doha on high alert
12 Nov 01 | Business
Luxury and squalor in Doha
12 Nov 01 | Business
WTO breakthrough on medicines
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