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WTO offered more flexibility on industrial goods in revised texts PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 11 February 2008

Agence France-Presse . Geneva

The World Trade Organisation on Friday offered more flexibility to member states over the thorny issue of industrial products by removing a set of numbers to calculate tariff ranges.

The new proposals came along a revised text on agriculture which left main figures unchanged but sought to narrow the areas of disagreement among the WTO s 151 members.

Back in July, the WTO s chief negotiatior on industrial goods known in the WTO as non-agricultural market access, or NAMA issued draft proposals that called for a cut in industrial tariffs charged by about 30 developing nations to less than 23 per cent.

The proposals by ambassador Don Stephenson, who is also Canada s representative at the WTO, drew flack particularly from the NAMA 11 group of developing nations that viewed them as unfair and too generous to developed countries. Stephenson s revised draft kept to this range, but took away figures previously indicated to calculate tariff flexibilities.

Originally he set a limit of 10 per cent for the number of products that developing countries could exclude from a cut in tariffs, but this failed to achieve consensus among member states. This text provides a great deal more space for members to negotiate on all the issues, Stephenson told reporters.

It is not a step backwards, it reflects the state of negotiations. Have I given in to pressure? I listened to all of the members, he said. Chief agriculture negotiator Crawford Falconer, who is also New Zealand s ambassador to the WTO, conceded that his own revised text contained no surprises .

Back in July, he called on the United States to reduce its agricultural subsidies to 13-16.4 billion dollars (9-11.2 billion euros) a range on which Washington says it is prepared to negotiate, but which was still criticised as too generous by several developing countries.

Falconer has not changed any of the key formulas in his revised text, but trade sources said it clarified issues and was now comprehensive across the three main agricultural issues of domestic support, market access and export subsidies. There is no big surprise.

I havent tried to invent solutions when they are not there, he told reporters. I have tried to build a structure on which policital choices can be made. Members know very well what those choices are, he added. The WTO s Doha round of talks aims to cut barriers and spur development but have been mired in deadlock and disagreement since their launch back in November 2001

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