World Trade Organisation Director General Pascal Lamy had convened trade ministers from 35 key negotiating countries on 21 July in a bid to finally achieve a breakthrough in seven year talks on liberalising international trade.
At the meeting, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson sought to kickstart proceedings with the announcement that the EU was ready to raise its offer on cutting farm tariffs to 60% - rather than the 54% the bloc had previously committed to. "We've decided to help the negotiations this week get off to a strong start by raising the average cut in our agricultural tariff," Mandelson said.
But he stressed that the new offer was conditional on rapidly emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China coming forward with improved offers on lowering industrial tariffs. Indeed, better access to these markets, which are still highliy protected, is a key demand of European manufacturers and is seen as a necessary trade-off for the sacrifices European farmers will be asked to make.
60% - nothing new?
However, while Mandelson presented his offer as "a very considerable improvement on our own part," his counterparts both within the EU and outside appeared far from convinced.
Brazil denounced the proposal as a pure artifice, while EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said the offer was "nothing new" and French State Secretary for Trade Anne-Marie Idrac denied that the EU was ready to raise its offer in any way.
According to Idrac, the difference between the two figures is simply due to a recalculation of the Commission's earlier offer, with the higher figure reflecting the inclusion of tropical products, such as bananas – on which a deal is yet to be achieved – in the tariff cut calculations.