IFA welcomes Sarkozy's refusal to sign WTO deal


The Irish Farmers’ Association has welcomed a statement by French president Nicolas Sarkozy that said he would not sign a new world trade deal in its current form.

Talks to salvage a global trade deal in Geneva faced a crunch point today after three days of scant progress and Mr Sarkozy’s insistence that he would not sign up to the current proposals.

But IFA president Padraig Walshe said he was delighted that President Sarkozy was now delivering on the sentiments he expressed to him at the French Embassy in Dublin on Monday.

“France and Ireland have always stood together in support of Europe’s unique family farm structure, which is now in peril because of [EU Trade commissioner Peter] Mandelson’s reckless concessions to multinational traders, international shippers and South American ranchers,” he said.

Speaking in Geneva this evening, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Mary Coughlan TD and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr Brendan Smith confirmed that they have been engaged in “robust negotiations with key players defending and promoting Irish interests in what are proving to be very difficult trade talks”.

In a joint statement, the Ministers said that these meetings provided opportunities to consistently highlight "our very real concerns on Agriculture" while working for "positive outcomes on manufacturing industry and services which will deliver opportunities for Irish manufacturing and services companies through better access to world markets and in so doing will secure Irish jobs for years to come."

Mr Smith said that his objective was to "ensure the best possible tariff protection for key Irish agricultural products such as beef, dairy and sheepmeat".

Rich and poor countries remained at loggerheads as to who must make the next move and officials said it would become clear today whether it was worth pursuing the talks.

Collapse could add more years of delay to the World Trade Organisation's Doha negotiations to bring down barriers to exports worldwide.

The talks were originally due to run until Saturday but delegates say they will either flop before then because of the deep differences or drag on well into next week.

"We are potentially closer than we have ever been to a deal, but the final steps are the hardest and still look formidable," said Mr Mandelson on his weblog.

Mr Sarkozy, concerned about scaling back the EU's farm import tariffs for little return, said he would not to sign up for the deal currently on the table.

"We will not sign this agreement that is on the table if it is not modified," Mr Sarkozy told reporters in France. He has previously criticised Mandelson's handling of the WTO talks.

The so-called development round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, is meant, among other things, to make it easier for developing countries to export farm produce by reducing rich countries' subsidies and import tariffs on agricultural goods.

The United States and the European Union have made offers on agriculture, but are pushing developing countries to open their borders for imports of industrial goods like cars and chemicals, and services like banking and telecommunications.

Without a breakthrough before the August break, the Doha round risks further years of delays due to next year's changes at the White House and at the European Commission.

A US industry representative said Washington negotiators gave lobbyists "a pretty bleak assessment" of the talks.

US Trade representative Susan Schwab has urged developing countries to come forward with offers of their own after she offered to cap trade-distorting subsidies to US farmers at $15 billion a year, a level many countries still consider too high.

Ms Schwab said a group of key ministers had made "a little progress" at talks which ended shortly before dawn today.

The ministers from Australia, Brazil, China, the EU, India, Japan and the United States are meeting again this afternoon to see if they can break the deadlock.

The IFA said that following a meeting with EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in Geneva this morning, the Agriculture Commissioner gave Mr Walshe categorical assurances that the trade talks would not affect EU farm payments now, or after 2013.

Meanwhile, director of the Small Firms Association (SFA) Patricia Callan today urged the Government to use its influence in the trade talks to ensure their successful conclusion this week.

“A new deal has the potential to restore confidence across the global economy, which will be critically important in allowing Ireland to trade its way out of the current economic downturn,” Ms Callan said.

Additional reporting Reuters