Oxfam attacks Mandelson over trade comments

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The Independent Online

Peter Mandelson sparked a bitter row with Oxfam, the poverty charity, after he blamed developing countries such as Brazil for taking the talks on a world deal "hostage". Oxfam accused the European Union's trade commissioner of being "disingenuous" and said the EU had to come up with a better deal on agricultural tariffs. The British government urged all 148 members of the World Trade Organisation to "dig deeper into their pockets".

Mr Mandelson said a new deal to take down barriers to rich countries' farm markets would only be possible if other nations agreed to negotiate on areas such as industrial goods and services. "That is much more in the interests of developing countries than simply keeping the round hostage by highly competitive agricultural producers in putting the whole negotiation into an agricultural siding, which is what has happened all this year," he said on Radio 4. He said the EU had made a "very credible" offer to cut its trade-distorting subsidies by 70 per cent.

But Oxfam said the EU still needed to make a "serious" offer to cut tariffs to ensure the talks lived up to its official billing as a "development" round. Phil Bloomer, its campaigns director, said: "Trying to blame poor countries for holding out on essential reforms they were promised four years ago is unreasonable."

Meetings between 20 ministers from the leading trading nations this week failed, forcing the WTO to scale back its ambitions for its summit next month.

The UK government said boosting trade in farm goods was essential. "Developing countries can't afford to lose the benefits of a successful round as trade opportunities are critical to combating poverty. That's a large prize and people need to dig deeper into their pockets," a spokeswoman said.