ANN CAHILL: Farmers urge Government to veto WTO deal

FARMERS have called on the Government to veto an emerging World Trade Organisation deal on the basis it would wipe out Irish agriculture while business leaders have also decried the latest compromises on industrial goods.

The condemnation comes on the heels of a round of cuts to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

Talks on the Doha round have been stalled for months but the latest revised texts to emerge from Geneva looked set to break the deadlock.

WTO director general Pascal Lamy said: “We are getting closer to our endgame. These revised negotiating texts illustrate clearly where convergence lies among the WTO members, and where we have more work to do.”

But IFA president Padraig Walshe called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to state clearly the Government’s opposition to the WTO text.

He said the latest proposals would allow 700,000 tonnes of cheap beef steaks from Brazil to flood the EU market: “That’s 25 times the amount of Ireland’s entire output and would decimate markets, driving cattle prices down to €2/kg. That price is unviable and would result in Ireland’s beef herd of more than one million cows being slaughtered,” he said.

The organisation that represents EU farmers in Brussels, COPA COGECA, said Europe’s farmers would lose sales of at least €30 billion a year and would not get back anything like that on industrial goods and services.

Ireland could veto the deal once if overall agreement is reached when it comes before EU member state leaders for ratification.

BusinessEurope, representing business and employer interests in Brussels, was also unhappy with the text on industrial goods because it would allow developing countries to totally protect some sectors.

Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who has led the EU’s negotiations, has been the butt of Irish farmers’ anger in particular. His spokesman said they could not comment on the detailed documents as they were still studying them.

The chairman of the WTOs agricultural negotiations, Crawford Falconer, said the relatively few “hot spots” left were difficult. It is understood the commission is unhappy with the non-agricultural elements of the draft.

Services, a key area also for Ireland, has yet to be dealt with.

Negotiators are expected to meet later this month to deal with the remainingissues blocking an agreement to lift tariffs blocking free trade especially between developing and developed countries. If successful, trade ministers would meet in June to conclude on agriculture and industry and deal with the service sector and trade regulations.

The details and documents would need to be finalised — which could take five to six months — in time to be initialled by US President George W Bush before he leaves office at the end of the year.


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