EU suggests cutting number of products of higher import tariffs

The European Union has made a new proposal to allow foreign producers greater access to its farm markets, offering to cut the number of sensitive products that have higher import tariffs, officials said Wednesday.

"Our proposal is clearly targeting helping developing countries," EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told The Associated Press. "This is the first full-fledged proposal on market access."

Brussels is offering to reduce the number of products where it considers its own farmers most vulnerable to foreign competition, such as beef and poultry, from 10 percent of its total to 8 percent, trade officials said.

But the EU offer stopped far short of the 1 percent that Washington has demanded. Under the U.S. market access proposal, the EU would only be allowed to maintain special protection for some 20 sensitive products, the AP reports.

The proposal "doesn't come close meeting the expectations we all have on market access," said U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

Cutting the number of sensitive products by two percentage points would equate to reducing total tariffs by 24.5 percent, Portman said.

"That's not adequate. I don't think anyone considers that adequate," he added.

Trade ministers from a powerful group of developing countries were also trying to work out a counterproposal asking for greater reductions in both U.S. and European Union farm subsidies.

Ministers from the so-called G-20 group, which is led by Brazil and India, had previously given a cautious welcome to new offers from Washington and Brussels made this week, but said they did not go far enough in trimming actual payments, said Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

On Wednesday, Brazil said the EU needed to concede more ground to foreign producers if it was to match U.S. offers.

"They have to improve substantially," said Clodoaldo Hugueney, Brazil's ambassador to the WTO. "America has moved, so now they have to move."

At a Hong Kong summit scheduled for the end of the year, the World Trade Organization's 148 members are supposed to agree on an outline for a global trade deal. But progress has stalled, largely because of the thorny issue of U.S. and EU farm subsidies.

The current round of global trade talks, launched in 2001, is set to conclude next year. It sets out to boost the global economy by lowering trade barriers across all sectors, with particular emphasis on developing countries, for whom farm subsidies are a sensitive topic.


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