NATIONAL

EU — Mercosur trade negotiations

Francisco da Camara Gomes, Ambassador/Head of Delegation of the European Commission to India, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives writes:

The assertion that "the EU is expected to take the first step to divide the group (G-20) by offering market access concessions on agricultural exports from Latin America countries in the Mercosur custom union (The Hindu, April 18) will come as a surprise to those who have followed the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations since 2000.

Negotiations for a EU-Mercosur Free Trade area began in 2000, well before the launch of the current round of the WTO trade talks (and the creation of G-20) following a decision adopted in 1998 by the European Council to authorise the European Commission to negotiate with Mercosur countries. Indeed, since the current European Commission took office in 1999, no new Free Trade area negotiations have been started. Instead, the EU has given priority to a new WTO round of trade talks, which were launched in Doha. Since then, that has remained our priority. But at the same time we have faithfully sought to execute our existing Council mandate in bilateral and regional talks — we have completed deals with Mexico (1999), and Chile (2002), while negotiations continue with the Gulf Cooperation Council, with the ACP countries.

Here, again, it is no secret that our negotiations for an inter-regional association Agreement, including a preferential agreement between EU and the Mercosur, have progressed. The political and co-operation chapters of the Association Agreement have been successfully negotiated and many sections of the trade chapters are well advanced. In November last year, we publicly adopted an ambitious work programme which if followed, would lead to the conclusion of the talks by October 2004. Our aim is of course, as in any FTA, to provide preferential access to each other's markets. Why find this development so shocking?

You seem to conclude that, any agricultural market access concessions made to Mercosur would be aimed at splitting the ranks of those pushing for agricultural liberalisation in the Doha Round. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The crucial issue of export subsidies is not covered in bilateral negotiations such as EU-Mercosur, but are addressed at the multilateral level within the framework of WTO.

It is, indeed, a pity to see that any substantial move by the EU to further liberalise trade is either downplayed or misrepresented. This will result in the Indian readers getting a totally wrong impression. Why, for instance, not mention that the EU Common agricultural policy has been further reformed in June 2003 and hence, by policy design, the EU most trade distorting support in agriculture will have been slashed by 70 per cent since 1992? And why not say that this reform is a continuous process?

We would urge you to help your readers understand the facts, rather than allow them to be confused with theories. And the facts are that we are trying to advance the talks both on Mercosur — and the DDA. And that the substantial offer the EU has tabled in Geneva should be finally met with equal ambition by other WTO members.

Commissioner Lamy never objected to the forming of G-20. Indeed, he even publicly welcomed the creation of the group as long as it is constructive. Commissioner Lamy also has actively engaged in a dialogue with G-20 on a number of occasions and still interacts with them regularly.

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