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Europeans must lower farm barriers: US

The Bush administration's top trade negotiator said the EU must make a better offer to lower barriers protecting European farmers.

india Updated: Jan 23, 2006 17:26 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

The Bush administration's top trade negotiator said Friday the European Union must make a better offer to lower barriers protecting European farmers.

"Unless the EU steps forward on agriculture, India, Brazil and other emerging market countries will not step forward," US Trade Representative Rob Portman said during an interview. Ideally, he said, the EU would improve its offer on lowering tariffs and other barriers in farm trade while developing countries would make bolder offers in cutting barriers to manufactured goods and services, such as banking.

"Time is running short. We cannot let this opportunity pass. It is a once in a generation opportunity," Portman said. Next week, trade ministers from some 30 nations will meet at the World Economic Forum, held annually in Davos, Switzerland. Portman said he hoped those discussions, along with one-on-one talks he will have with trade officials, will build momentum for broader discussions of a new global trade deal at the 149-nation World Trade Organization.

On another matter, Portman said the Bush administration would continue to press ahead this year on new free trade agreements with individual countries and would soon announce the launching of new negotiations.

He did not specify which countries would be included. He praised economic reform efforts made by South Korea, while saying Egypt and Switzerland seemed to be further away from where they need to be in order to start free trade talks with the United States. In the past, Portman has mentioned Malaysia as a possible candidate for free trade talks.

At a meeting in Hong Kong in December _ part of the Doha round of global trade negotiations launched in 2001 _ ministers failed to achieve a breakthrough on the contentious issue of farm trade. Portman said he hopes agreement can be reached on a broad framework for a deal to reduce barriers in farm trade, manufactured goods and financial services by April 30.

He said progress needs to be made quickly so an overall agreement can be completed by the end of 2006. The administration has said it needs to meet that timetable in order to present the deal to Congress under expedited procedures that call for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

The administration's authority to negotiate such deals under its so-called "Trade Promotion Authority" expires in mid-2007. Many trade analysts say the countries are so far apart that the best can be hoped for this year is a watered-down agreement. But Portman rejected that suggestion.

"From our point of view, a watered-down Doha round is not acceptable. We need to keep the pressure on. The end of April ... is an important date," he said.

Portman said he has been involved in frank discussions with EU officials, including EU Trade Minister Peter Mandelson. "I sense there is an understanding of what the ultimate bargain will be but I can't say whether they (EU officials) are prepared to move," he said.

First Published: Jan 23, 2006 17:26 IST