WTO Ministers' Talks in Tokyo Conclude
Feb. 17, 2003
TOKYO (AP) _ Exporting giants eager for markets and nations intent on protecting farming were unable to bridge their differences on tariffs and other issues as a World Trade Organization ministers' meeting came to a close Sunday.
During the three-day Tokyo meeting, delegates from 22 nations of the 145-member WTO clashed over a proposal from Stuart Harbinson, the chair of the WTO farm negotiations, to reduce tariffs by an average 60 percent in five years, cut agricultural subsidies and raise import quotas.
``There are very deep differences represented on this table,'' U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said after the meetings.
Although a deal on agriculture remains critical for the success of global trade talks, Zoellick acknowledged that a number of countries weren't ready to make concessions.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who chaired the talks, played down the failure of the participants to find common ground.
``We came to clearer perceptions regarding issues to be discussed,'' she said. ``Harbinson's paper served as a catalyst. Everyone's positions became crystallized.''
The WTO members are trying to meet a March 31 deadline to agree on a framework for talks on agriculture _ one of the stickiest issues in the latest round of global trade negotiations, which began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.
Harbinson's report failed to please most delegates, who refused to budge from their stances, officials at the talks said.
The United States and the 18-nation Cairns Group, which favor an agricultural tariff cap at 25 percent in developed nations, said the document didn't go far enough.
But the European Union, which wants to keep some of its farm subsidies and supports tariff reductions by 36 percent, criticized the report as ``unbalanced.''
EU officials said Harbinson's paper was no more than a first draft.
``It was there to provoke reaction and it did provoke reaction,'' said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.
Europe found an ally in host nation Japan, which levies a 490 percent tariff on foreign rice to protect its staple crop, to fend off the United States and the Cairns Group, which includes Canada and Australia.
``I'm disappointed by the lack of political leadership on the part of the EU and Japan. Australia and others in the Cairns Group are concerned the round could be headed for trouble,'' said Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile.
Zoellick criticized Japanese officials as dragging their feet when the nation had much to gain from opening markets as an exporter of manufactured goods.
``They are sacrificing Japan's strengths on the altar of rice,'' he said.
Japan said that Harbinson's proposal was unacceptable.
``I wonder whether creating the same market rules for agriculture as for industry will really contribute to the happiness of people around the world,'' said Agriculture Minister Tadamori Oshima.
India supported Europe and Japan.
``The market access issue has great sensitivity, particularly in a country like India where 650 million people are dependent for their livelihood on agriculture,'' said Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley.
Participants at the closed-door talks could do little more than agree to treat Harbinson's document as a starting point for continued discussions in Geneva starting Monday. They plan to submit their own suggestions and Harbinson will prepare another draft, officials said.
The ministers also were unable to resolve a disagreement over drug patents and how to make affordable drugs to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases for poor countries. The deadline for an agreement on that issue already passed in December.
The United States has so far refused to accept a compromise proposal, claiming countries could abuse the system to ignore patents on many other drugs.
The meeting in Tokyo followed to talks in Sydney, Australia, in November, and are part of preparations for a full WTO ministerial conference in Cancun, Mexico, in September.