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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 18:50 GMT
Trade chiefs slate agriculture reforms
British shepherd
Farming: Age-old profession coming across new difficulties
Trade chiefs have rounded on draft plans for liberalising global farm markets, setting the scene for heated weekend talks.

The European Commission has condemned as "unbalanced" quota and subsidy reforms drawn up by the World Trade Organisation.

The report fails to address the huge market distortions created by certain forms of subsidies typically granted in other major developed countries

European Commission
Pressure group Focus on the Global South, urging stronger action to open up industrialised nations' farm markets, dismissed the proposals as "terrible" for developing countries.

And New Zealand's trade minister, Jim Sutton, said the reforms needed to be introduced quicker than the deadlines of up to nine years the WTO envisaged.

"The date is too far away," Mr Sutton said.

"Export subsidies undermine world markets and hurt farmers in New Zealand and around the world."

Bone of contention

The comments come ahead of a three-day meeting of trade ministers in Tokyo to discuss the Doha round of trade liberalisation talks, which have stuck particularly over agricultural reforms.

You are going to have ordinary people suffering, because agriculture is the key that gives employment to developing countries

Focus on the Global South

The WTO has set a 31 March deadline for the approval of a shake-up package for farm trade.

But the tangle of agricultural support policies which have evolved among the WTO's 145 member states has proved difficult to undo.

Countries such as the US and Australia have stressed the unfairness of export subsidies, high in European Union.

The European Commission, meanwhile, has condemned indirect farm support offered in countries such as Australia, and the US's emergency aid payments.

'Ordinary people to suffer'

The WTO proposals spread the burden very unevenly amongst the developed countries", the commission said on Wednesday.

"It fails to address the huge market distortions created by certain forms of subsidies typically granted in other major developed countries," the commission added, in a swipe at US farm policy.

But Focus on the Global South (FGS) warned that the WTO plans would allow industrialised nations to continue making large farm support payments.

"You are going to have ordinary people suffering, because agriculture is the key that gives employment to developing countries," FGS research director Aileen Kwa said.

Plan details

The WTO report proposed measures including:

  • the phasing out of export subsidies over nine years

  • targets for reducing import duties, with some levies to fall by at least 60% over five years.

  • increases to import quotas, such that foreign-produced goods take at least 10% of market share.

  • developed nations allowed to specify a small number of "strategic products" on which higher tariffs would be permitted.

See also:

26 Jan 03 | Business
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25 Oct 02 | Business
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