French Agriculture Minister: China, India Thwarted WTO Negotiations

July 31, 2008

France’s agriculture minister said Wednesday that “big emerging countries” were to blame for the collapse of World Trade Organization talks on opening up the global economy.

The president of a leading French farmers’ union, meanwhile, hailed the outcome of the talks. “It’s reason that won out,” Jean-Michel Lemetayer of the FNSEA union said.

Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said on France’s RTL radio that China, India and Brazil thwarted a “balanced accord” at the talks in Geneva by “blocking imports and wanting to export to us.”

Barnier said the 153-member WTO effort “isn’t finished,” but is threatened by the breakdown in the Doha round of trade talks Tuesday.

“The European Union made big efforts” at the talks on reducing subsidies to its producers, Barnier said. Farm subsidies have been a big thorn in trade talks in the past and took on added significance amid recent rising food prices worldwide.

In developed and developing countries reducing farm subsidies has long been one of the most delicate issues in trade talks. Countries such as India want to protect its poor and subsistence farmers, while U.S. and EU negotiators are under pressure from powerful farm lobbies.

Lemetayer accused India in particular of not being willing to open up more markets to imports. “Better no agreement than a bad agreement,” he said, also speaking on RTL. “France and Europe, we have food traditions, we have an agricultural model. We don’t want to lose it through international negotiations and liberalization of trade. In the short term, it’s better like this,” he said.

The high-level talks in Geneva, once promised as a recipe for lifting millions of people out of poverty, ended Tuesday after nine days and produced no new trade openings for farmers and manufacturers, no global economic boost and no grand deal for Third World development.

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