Agriculture to be 'hot' item in Cancun: EU's Lamy

Agriculture will be a 'hot-ticket item' for negotiations at Cancun, said European Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy.

business Updated: Sep 09, 2003 12:04 IST

Agriculture will be a 'hot-ticket item' for negotiations at next week's WTO ministerial talks in Cancun where the EU, accused as "protectionist", would seek a balance between market opening and preservation of a viable countryside world-wide, a top EU trade official has said.

"There is no question that trade in agriculture is a hot-ticket item. Our objective is simple: to find a balance between market opening and the preservation of a viable countryside and not just in the EU but around the world," European Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy said in an article in the state-run 'China Daily' on Friday.

"We in Europe and many others, including a number of developing countries, have made a political choice to support our agriculture because it is not just another economic activity. It plays a part in conserving the rural culture, the environment, food safety and in animal welfare," he said.

Lamy said that despite critics saying the EU is "protectionist," the 15-member body had submitted an ambitious package on the table in January.

"We proposed reducing customs duties by 36 per cent, reducing export subsidies by 45 per cent and reducing trade-distorting aid by over 55 per cent," he said.

Lamy added that in June, the EU announced a further reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy that enabled them to continue supporting their agriculture but moving further away from trade-distorting practices.

Describing the Cancun meeting as a "key milestone" in the Doha Development Agenda, Lamy said Cancun is not the end of this process but an "intermediate stage" where negotiators will take stock and make sure that the round is on target for completion at the end of 2004 as scheduled.

"It is a big undertaking, with around 20 separate issues and 146 economies, including China, to decide how to handle them," he wrote.

While pointing his primary task at Cancun is to defend European interests, Lamy said that "everyone agrees that the focus has to be on development and how we integrate developing economies into the world trade system."

"We are talking about new rules to ensure the benefits of open trade are evenly spread: investment, competition, trade facilitation and transparency in government procurement. It is not about standardising but rather establishing a minimum set of rules for everyone that are non-discriminatory, transparent and predictable - something that is particularly important for developing countries," he said.

Lamy said that clinching agreement on an overall approach will be one of the priorities in Cancun.

He predicted trade in services would be another big item on the negotiating agenda since services are at the heart of the EU economies: Information Technology, Tourism, Advisory Services, Banking, Insurance, Distribution and so on.

Services are also crucial for the economies of other members. They account for 50 per cent of developing countries' GDP, for instance, he wrote.

"A remarkable but little-known fact is that 15 of the world's 40 leading service exporters are from developing countries," he said.

However, Lamy noted that their share of international trade does not always reflect the crucial and growing role they play in the world economy.

Developing countries are pressing for an opening of these markets, including the temporary movement of professional service providers, he wrote.

Welcoming the recent landmark agreement reached between the US and developing countries on live-saving drugs, Lamy described it as "a strong signal of our collective ability to regulate globalisation."

"It is a clear sign that the WTO can take a practical, pragmatic approach to help save lives," The European Trade Commissioner added.

First Published: Sep 06, 2003 14:20 IST