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Swiss condemn trade talk deadlock

Luzius Wasescha doesn't exclude a veto by large import countries

(Keystone)

A senior Swiss trade official has criticised the "unrealistic" position of big exporting countries during talks in Geneva aimed at cutting farm subsidies.

Luzius Wasescha said the G10 group of countries, of which Switzerland is a member, was ready to walk away from the negotiating table if the situation failed to improve.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Wasescha said the intransigence of exporting countries was "a joke" and threatened to scupper any hope of an agreement ahead of a crucial World Trade Organization (WTO) summit on Hong Kong in December.

"Given the stake of these negotiations for the system, for the members, especially the weaker ones, this attitude is not very responsible," he said.

"The G10 [group of ten large import countries] is not a veto group – we don't want to be negative – but if things happen which are so far away from the simplest reality then we will have to say no," added Wasescha, who is Switzerland's ambassador to the Geneva-based WTO.

"There is an absolute consensus within G10 that we will have to go down this very difficult path if the others are not reasonable."

Wasescha said the G10 was pinning its hopes on the European Union making big concessions on agriculture.

The EU came under pressure earlier this week from many WTO countries to make substantial cuts in aid to farmers. But the EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, is facing stiff opposition from France.

Stalemate

The deadlock over agricultural tariffs and subsidies threatens to derail the current round of trade talks, which aim to boost the global economy by lowering trade barriers.

The so-called Doha round of negotiations, which was launched in 2001, is designed to reduce protectionism and help farmers in developing countries. The WTO's 148 members are trying to approve a blueprint in time for Hong Kong.

Ten days ago the Swiss economics minister, Joseph Deiss, said he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached. But Wasescha told swissinfo on Friday that the prospects were looking bleak.

"Either the coming week will see exporters come up with a realistic approach and then we'll have a deal in Hong Kong, or they will stick to their expectations and then unfortunately we will not make it," he said.

Wasescha said the US, the EU, Brazil, Australia and India – the so-called Five Interested Parties – were due to hold a telephone conference next week to discuss the situation.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

WTO head Pascal Lamy on Friday urged the EU and the US to both make concessions to break a deadlock on farm subsidies.

The WTO's 148 members are trying to agree on an outline deal by the end of the year.

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