Swiss report progress in agriculture at WTO

Agricultural reform in Switzerland has been a controversial issue. Landi

Switzerland says there has been some progress in talks on agriculture at a meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) ministers in China.

This content was published on July 13, 2005

But the government’s trade delegate, ambassador Luzius Wasescha, who was at the talks in Dalian, said this hadn’t been followed by moves forward in the industrial domain.

Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, who is leading a delegation to China, was cautious about the outcome of the mini ministerial conference.

"The question is whether Kjartan Johannson from Iceland, who is head of the negotiations, can find a solution over the coming weeks that will reflect one voice but take into account the needs expressed by the developing world," he told the Swiss News Agency.

The talks in the Chinese port city were part of WTO efforts to unblock the stalled Doha Round of trade liberalisation negotiations.

Interim agreements

WTO members are due to meet in Geneva later this month to hammer out interim agreements, ahead of a full ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December.

"We are prepared to make concessions in the field of agriculture but that is not justified unless there is something in return, whether it be in industrial products, services or instruments that make trade easier," Deiss commented.

Wasescha told swissinfo that within the WTO there were two schools of thought on the issue of cutting farm subsidies and tariffs.

"You have agricultural exporters who believe they can impose a radical liberalisation and a weakening of the safeguards in this context, whilst those like Switzerland, Japan and the European Union defend a model of multifunctional agricultures and want to go step by step," he said.

He added that Switzerland was trying to find a balance between WTO commitments and its internal (agricultural) reform process.

"If exporters push us too far we will not have a majority for agricultural reforms domestically and the exporters will have less than if they show flexibility. Unfortunately they have not yet understood that," he said.

He said the Swiss message to other countries on agriculture had been "to look at the realities and not at their perceptions that date back 12 years".

Industrial domain

In the industrial domain, Wasescha said Switzerland wanted to see "huge emerging markets" such as Brazil and India do the same as China when it acceded to the WTO.

"China has an average tariff of 15 per cent on industrial goods, Brazil around 30 per cent and India about 150 per cent."

"These two giants have been members of the GATT [the WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] since 1947, so they should catch up with what their competitor here in China has achieved," he argued.

The Swiss delegation begins the official part of its Chinese visit in Beijing on Thursday, accompanied by a group of business leaders.

Wasescha said that Deiss would strengthen the "excellent cooperation" between the People’s Republic of China and Switzerland and hoped to introduce businessmen to additional business opportunities.

"We detect, generally speaking, in Asia a lack of interest from Europe and from Switzerland in this area and I think it’s excellent that Deiss pursues cooperation with his Chinese colleagues," he added.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

Key facts

The Doha round of trade talks in the World Trade Organization was originally due for completion by 2004.
But in 2003 a WTO conference collapsed amid bickering over agriculture and investment rules.
Ministers now hope to complete the negotiations successfully by the end of 2006, more than five years after they were launched in the Qatari capital.

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In brief

The official visit to China by Economics Minister Joseph Deiss and a delegation of Swiss business leaders takes place from July 14-19.

Meetings in Beijing are planned with vice-premier Zeng Peiyan, minister of commerce Bo Xilai, vice-minister of the National Commission for Development and Reform Zhu Zhixin and the mayor, Wang Qishan.

Deiss will also hold meetings in Shanghai with the local authorities and visit a number of companies.

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