Geneva: The European Union (EU) said on Monday it would be willing to slash farm tariffs by 60% as part of a new global trade pact, a deeper cut than it has ever offered.
EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters at the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the offer was meant to kick off a week of crunch-time talks on a new commerce pact.
The 27-nation bloc has previously proposed to cut the tariffs by 54%, but it was unclear what Mandelson’s new figure fully entailed. Some trade officials suggested the cut was only an EU recalculation of its old offer.
Negotiators are aiming for agreement on liberalizing agriculture and manufacturing this week, so that the 153-member WTO can clinch a final deal to reduce tariffs and subsidies by the end of the year. “We’ve decided to help the negotiations this week get off to a strong start by raising the average cut in our agricultural tariff,” Mandelson said. “That is a very considerable improvement on our own part, but of course it’s light years away from any effort we’ve previously made in a trade round.”
But, he added, the offer was not a gift. It depends on emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China responding with improved offers on lowering industrial tariffs to allow European manufacturers more access to their markets. Rich and poor countries have clashed repeatedly in the WTO talks known as the Doha Round.
Developing nations want agricultural subsidies in rich countries to come down so they can sell more of their produce, while the US, EU and others seek better access for their manufacturers and banks. The US, Brazil and other powerful agricultural exporters have recently focused on securing better conditions for trade in beef, dairy, sugar and other products sensitive for European farmers. These goods would be shielded from deep tariff cuts.
It remains to be seen how effective the EU’s offer will be in convincing developing countries to open up their manufacturing markets or the US to cut its farm subsidies, another main sticking point of the negotiation.
Earlier, chief US negotiator Susan Schwab said she was focusing on substance this week and not on talk that divides people, in her first public comments since Brazil’s foreign minister on Saturday compared rich countries’ deception in commerce talks to the tactics used by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.