EU Trade Chief Says U.S. Must Make First Move to Restart Doha Round

By Adrian Croft | March 23, 2010

The European Union cannot make more concessions on farm trade to restart stalled world trade talks and the United States must make the first move, the EU’s new trade chief said on Monday.

The ball was not in the EU’s hands in the Doha trade talks, Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht said. “We are not responsible for what is presently happening,” he said, speaking at the London School of Economics.

“In the negotiations in 2008, we have put on the table quite some breakthroughs with respect to agriculture. We cannot go further. We simply wouldn’t have political backing to go further, certainly not for market access,” he said.

While ruling out more concessions on opening access to the EU’s agricultural markets, de Gucht was not quite so definitive on the issue of high EU subsidies that other exporters and developing countries say distort markets in farm trade.

“Some claim that eventually on subsidies we could do something at the last night (of the negotiations) …, but that certainly would make a major political problem. So we are not going to move at this moment in time,” he said.

World leaders have called for a Doha agreement this year but de Gucht said there was a “complete contradiction” between leaders’ public statements and what happened around the negotiating table.

There has to come a move. It primarily has to come from the United States,” he said. “They should make an opening and at least say what they want. But they don’t, they are in fact silent,” he said. “We are really stuck,” said de Gucht, a former Belgian foreign minister who was named trade commissioner last November.

The Doha round talks were launched in late 2001 to open up global commerce [including removing trade barriers for insurers and brokers] and help poor countries prosper through trade, but negotiations have stalled since ministers failed to clinch a breakthrough in July 2008.

Most other WTO members say the United States is not really committed to the talks. Washington says it is trying to advance the talks but China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies are unwilling to offer enough to sell a deal to voters.

De Gucht said the EU’s efforts to include issues such as labor rights often complicated the bloc’s negotiations with other countries on bilateral trade pacts.

The EU reached a free trade deal with Colombia and Peru this month. Ecuador walked out of the talks in 2008 after raising concerns on several issues including labor rights.

The EU is aiming for an October signing of a separate free trade agreement with India.

“That’s not only difficult with Colombia and Peru … It’s also very difficult with India. It is refusing for example clauses on human rights, rights of workers, ILO (International Labor Organization) agreements and treaties, and weapons of mass destruction, but this is the framework we have to work in,” de Gucht said. “It’s certainly making difficulties.”

The European Parliament would like to go further in the political conditions it attached to trade deals but this was a non-starter with the EU’s partner countries, he said.

The European Commission omitted clauses on weapons of mass destruction and rights from the proposed trade pact with India in 2007 in the face of opposition from India.

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