- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union offered yesterday to reduce average agricultural tariffs by 46 percent, its steepest farm-tariff cut to date, in a proposal aimed at breaking a deadlock in world trade talks.

The EU said it would reduce the highest tariff rates by 60 percent and eliminate all subsidies for farm exports if trading partners made similar moves at a World Trade Organization meeting in December. The EU did not give a time frame for the proposed cuts.

“Unlike many WTO countries, Europe actually applies these tariffs so the cuts are deep and real,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said. “This will drive down our tariffs across the board.”

The proposal improves on the EU’s previous offer to cut tariffs on the most protected products by about 50 percent, and would also reduce tariffs on sensitive products such as beef, chicken, and sugar — though it did not say by how much.

The United States said it was disappointed because the tariff reductions were far lower than other countries were seeking and allowed substantial loopholes.

“We are a little discouraged today by the EU proposal,” said U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman. “I believe it is a modest step in the right direction, but I just believe it’s inadequate to meet the promise of Doha.”

Mr. Portman said he’s hopeful that negotiations will continue between now and the next round of WTO talks in Hong Kong in December.

“This is not a time for take-it-or-leave-it proposals — that includes the U.S., frankly. We need to be prepared to negotiate in good faith.”

Mr. Portman said he understood the pressure that EU trade negotiators are under as “some member states in the EU are wanting to continue significant protections for EU farmers.” But he noted U.S. officials face similar pressures at home.

French reaction to the offer was cautious, after the nation warned on Thursday that it would veto any world trade deal that made too many concessions on agriculture.

The French government has not made any official comment. But a government official who spoke on the usual condition of anonymity said “doubts remain” about whether the offer is within the EU mandate.

The government is waiting for the EU to demonstrate that the offer abides by the mandate, the official said.

Mr. Mandelson described the offer as “Europe’s bottom line,” saying it was at the outer limit of the negotiating mandate given to the EU by its 25 national governments.

He said the EU was not prepared to take risks with the livelihoods of farmers in Europe and developing countries who would be hurt by more-severe tariff reductions.

The EU is asking its trading partners to agree on agriculture by Nov. 8 to pave the way for talks on other sectors.

The 148-country WTO remains split on a new trade pact that aims to increase market access for poorer countries, boost the opening up of services sectors and reduce farm subsidies.

Mr. Mandelson stressed that the offer to major trading partners the United States, Brazil, India and Australia was conditional on “immediate movement in negotiations on trade in industrial goods and services.”

The EU head office said U.S. commitments on food aid and export credits did not go far enough and wanted to see “real disciplines” on the most trade-distorting U.S. farm payments.

Both Australia and New Zealand also must do more to prove they are reforming state trading enterprises, it said.

The EU said matching the U.S. proposal to cut tariffs by 90 percent was “implausible” for Europe’s highly protected agricultural sector and would cause serious job losses.

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