Vol. 4 Num 94 Fri. August 29, 2003  

EU, Japan concerned at WTO draft plan

The European Union and Japan share concerns about many points in a draft compromise plan to free up world trade, the European Commission said Thursday after talks with Tokyo's farm minister.

"Japan seems to share the European Union's fears on a great number of points," said Gregor Kreuzhuber, spokesman for EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, who held talks with farm minister Yoshiyuki Kamei in Brussels.

The 80-minute meeting, ahead of talks with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy later in the day, came in the run-up to a World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Cancun, Mexico on September 10-14.

The EU executive earlier this week slammed as "unbalanced" a newly-released draft agreement for the Cancun meeting, saying that agricultural subsidies remain a stumbling block. At the same time Japan's trade minister dismissed the draft declaration, being drawn up in Geneva, as "insufficient".

Kamei said earlier this week that the draft's call for the introduction of a ceiling for tariff rates on imports would hurt Japan's rice industry which is now effectively protected by a tariff of 490 per cent on imported rice.

On Wednesday Fischler and the Japanese minister agreed to call a meeting at the Cancun conference on the issue of multi-functionality - meaning the inclusion of non-trade issues such as the environment in discussions.

"It's not just production of crops... agriculture should be understood in a wider away. It's about the environment, about quality. The idea is that we get an alliance on that issue," Kreuzhuber said.

"There are plenty of other countries interested," he added.

The spokesman welcomed the fact that "Japan has budged on a number of issues already," although he gave no details.

The Japanese minister made no public comments after his talks with the EU farm commissioner.

The Cancun meeting is designed to give a boost to the flagging Doha round of trade talks, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 and aimed at achieving a new global accord by January 1, 2005.