Let's call the whole thing off
With apologies to Ira and George Gershwin, the endgame for Doha may be nearing fast. With Brazil and India adopting hardline stances on their pet issues, the space for mutually acceptable compromise is dwindling fast. Now, Agence-France Presse reports that the EU too has adopted another uncompromising stance on the never-ending banana dispute, now in its twelfth year. Yes, it's take it or leave it time for yet another member of the big four negotiators (the fourth being the US). I have long covered the saga of Latin banana exporters [1, 2, 3]--from whom the term "banana republic" originally came from--engaging in trade litigation at the WTO to end preferential treatment of EU banana imports from former African, Carribean, and Pacific (ACP) colonies. As noted below, the ACP countries are still bellyaching about the EU ending these preferences resulting in all sorts of doom and gloom scenarios. This follows the EU accepting WTO DG Pascal Lamy's proposed settlement of gradually reducing EU tariffs on Latin American banana exports from the current 176 to 116 euros/tonne by 2015. Bottom line for the EU: if there's no permanent deal struck involving Latin American producers and ACP countries, let's call Doha off -
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson warned Thursday that if there was no accord with banana producers on imports in Europe, then there could be no wider deal on global trade liberalisation.
Speaking just days before crunch talks on the stalled World Trade Organisation Doha Round, Mandelson said a deal worked out by WTO head Pascal Lamy had to be accepted by both Latin American and African, Caribbean and Pacific producers.
He said Lamy's proposal was on a "take it or leave it" basis and no one was completely satisfied with it. At the same time, if it was not accepted, there would be no accord on trade in tropical agricultural products and so no wider WTO accord. That is why the EU had accepted the Lamy proposals, he said, adding that if others wanted to reject it, then they had to take responsibility for the failure of the whole Doha Round.
Earlier Thursday, the ACP countries said that the proposed cuts in EU banana import tariffs were an "unacceptable" threat to its producers. Hoping to give a boost to broader WTO talks, the European Commission said Wednesday it was ready for a sharp cut in its banana import tariffs in order to end a long-running trade dispute with Latin American producers.
But ACP nations, anxious to safeguard the preferential access to the European Union market that they have long enjoyed, said Thursday the move would only give "undue advantage to the Latin American producers.
"Should the proposed tariff cuts be applied as things actually stand, they would deal a lethal blow to the ACP banana industry and consequently, have an adverse effect on the ACP economies," it added.
The commission wants to resolve the long-running banana dispute before a meeting of 30 leading WTO players in Geneva next aimed at making a breakthrough in the stalled trade liberalisation talks.
For their part, the Latin American countries were confident of reaching a deal after the concessions by Brussels, a regional diplomat said Thursday. "We are positive we can agree on something. We are very close but not yet there," said the Latin American diplomat who requested anonymity.
Latin American banana producers have successfully challenged the EU's banana import regime before the World Trade Organisation on the grounds that it discriminates against them in favour of poor African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.
Under Lamy's proposals, Latin American countries would agree to a "peace clause," in effect promising not to reopen the case in return for the lower tariff. "We will be working hard during the weekend and try our best to reach an agreement before the ministerial meeting starts on Monday, or during the early days of next week," the diplomat told AFP.