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EC president digs heels over agriculture concessions

By staff reporter , 31-May-2006

There is no reason for the EU to put more agricultural concessions on the table at the WTO, according to current EC president Josef Proll.

Speaking at the informal agriculture council currently taking place in Krems under the Austrian Presidency, Proll said that the European Union had already made considerable prior concessions over issues such as agricultural tariffs and trade.

There was a comprehensive offer on the table, he said, and it did not make sense to go back on it.

 

Strengthening the competitiveness of European agriculture was what was important.

 

"Responsibility for progress certainly no longer lies with the European Union," he said.

 

"Above all the main focus is on the USA to show flexibility. But we are certainly not aiming at failure of the negotiations."

 

However, Proll insisted that it was unacceptable for progress "always to be made solely at the cost of the European Union". He said that the EU was in agreement on this.

 

Furthermore, he argued that there is now a need for action on the part of the EU's WTO partners. Full parallelism has to be ensured and there should be no unilateral offer.

 

Last minute negotiations at the World Trade Organisation's Hong Kong Ministerial in December, which discussed the breaking down of global trade barriers to agricultural products, resulted in an interim agreement that means negotiators have to return to the bargaining table this year.

 

The result was viewed as modest because it avoided earlier outright failures, though it did not secure any major breakthrough. But both the EU and the US now seem locked in a war of words, blaming each others lack of commitment for the slow progress being made.

 

Another theme the agriculture ministers are likely to discuss at the meeting this week is the imminent reform of the EU wine market organisation.

 

"As my own family were wine producers, I am very sensitive to this issue," said Proll.

 

He said that an initial proposal was expected in June.

 

And as opposed to the sugar sector, the pressure for reform was not coming from outside. Instead, it had become apparent within the EU that the sector was in need of an overhaul.