EU says WTO trade ‘road map’ on right track

By Jeremy Smith BRUSSELS, Reuters

The European Union cautiously welcomed a draft deal to rescue global trade talks on Monday, saying it was a step in the right direction but needed clarification if agreement was to be found by the end of July.

The talks, which broke down last year, are widely seen as a chance to give a big boost to global trade and lift millions out of poverty.

The plan drawn up by the World Trade Organization focuses on farm and industrial goods, with commitments to do more to promote the development of poorer states, and includes a proposal to end farm export subsidies.

“The paper that the WTO produced on Friday is, from our point of view, a basis for further work,” European Commission trade spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez told a news briefing.

“We note that this text requires still a number of clarifications and a number of precisions,” she said. “We will consult with our WTO partners … to make sure we reach this deal by the end of July.”

WTO negotiations on lowering global trade barriers, which could give a multi-billion dollar boost to the world economy, have been floundering ever since the dramatic collapse of a ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last September.

“Our feeling is that the text goes in the right direction. It is definitely a step forward, not a step back, which is not always obvious in these delicate negotiations,” Commission agriculture spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber told the briefing.

The trade talks broke down over the refusal of poorer nations to negotiate over a series of new areas demanded by richer countries, including investment and the issuing of state contracts.

In an effort to revive them, the WTO’s 147 member states set themselves the target of outline deals in key areas — particularly agriculture — at a special General Council meeting to be attended by many ministers starting on July 27.

Gonzalez said the Commission, which negotiates trade on behalf of the EU, wanted a maximum cut on tariffs on industrial goods — which account for around 90 percent of world trade. The draft text was the “minimum balance” between the high cuts sought by the EU and a lower level wanted by a number of other countries, she said.