EU trade chief defended deal to overhaul old sugar program

The European Union's trade chief on Friday defended a deal to overhaul the bloc's 40-year old sugar subsidy program from critics who say it will do little to open up the EU market or alleviate African poverty. European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson rejected as unfair claims by leaders at a Commonwealth summit in Malta against the EU sugar reforms agreed Thursday.

"The EU is today being criticized on the one hand for reforming its trade distorting sugar regime at long last, allegedly to the detriment of poor sugar exporting countries, and on the other hand for not going a lot further in liberalizing its agriculture policy," Mandelson said in a statement. "Our critics cannot have it both ways."

Several leaders at the Malta gathering of former British colonies denounced the EU for not going far enough in offering more access to its agricultural market for both other rich nations and for poorer nations.

states have been unwilling to do more, but it is hard to see how the Doha Round (of trade talks) can succeed unless they do," said New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Mandelson hit back saying reforms demanded by the EU's main trade rivals would hurt poor agricultural exporters.

"If Europe was to cut its agricultural tariffs in the way demanded by the United States and some competitive agricultural exporters, it would drastically reduce the preferential access Europe already gives to the world's poorest countries," he said.

Opening up world markets to poor nations is an aim of the round of world trade talks which began 2001 in Doha, Qatar, and face their next major meeting in Hong Kong on Dec. 13-18. However, deep divisions remain between the major players, making the hoped-for breakthrough unlikely.

The EU's landmark sugar reform, agreed after three days of talks here, will see price cuts of 36 percent and cuts production quotas for all member states. It will result in the EU becoming a net importer of sugar over the next five years.

However, the price cuts angered trade groups and officials from Caribbean sugar producers, many of which currently benefit from special access to the EU's sugar market and are able to sell their sugar at inflated prices in Europe, reports the AP. I.L.

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