Mandelson lays out plan to save world trade talks

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson, Europe's trade chief, has accused "self-interested" countries of jeopardising the world trade talks as he laid out a six-point plan to save next month's summit from failure.

He said yesterday demands from countries such as Brazil for further EU concessions on farm subsidies and tariffs would wipe out the livelihoods of people in 80 of the poorest countries. He defended his negotiating stance, which has seen offers to cut farm aid attacked by developing countries and EU member states.

Mr Mandelson said his offer to cut tariffs by an average of 47 per cent and trade-distorting subsidies by 70 per cent were "pretty good, frankly" and urged countries to take a "good deal on the table".

Speaking after a meeting with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of poor countries, he said: "The US, Canada, Brazil and India have fired a barrage of criticism in the name of developing countries. What these countries have in common is that they are all large-scale competitive agricultural producers and exporters.

"The kind of tariff cuts they want to see are entirely self-interested and the impact on ACP countries would be devastating. If we accepted US proposals, many of those countries would see two-thirds of their agricultural trade with Europe wiped out." Countries have until the end of next year to seal a deal on farms, industrial tariffs, services and other smaller topics. But they have admitted the meeting next month will be only a "staging post" at best. Mr Mandelson said: "The EU will be ambitious, consensual and constructive, and if others want to treat Hong Kong as a finger-wagging opportunity they will bear full responsibility for the meeting's failure."

Asked what he hoped to achieve in the Chinese city, Mr Mandelson said it should leave a "platform and springboard" for further negotiations.

His six-point plan is: quota- and tariff-free access for least-developed economies into rich- country markets; completion of the deal to allow poor countries to buy cheap, generic versions of drugs; more time to cope with rules on property rights; elimination of US cotton subsidies; compensation for countries that will see their preferential position weakened; and more aid to help countries adapt to free trade.