GENEVA (AFP) — A bid by the European Union to kickstart crucial trade talks with a new-sounding offer on agriculture tariffs fell flat on Monday with Brazil denouncing the proposal as "gimmickry".
The EU's chief negotiator Peter Mandelson sought to steal the show as ministers gathered in Geneva with claims the bloc had raised its proposed tariff cuts on agricultural products to 60 percent from 54 percent.
But developing countries were distinctly unimpressed, with Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim telling reporters it was "meaningless... purely statistic gimmickry."
Even Mandelson's fellow EU commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said the offer was "nothing new".
French trade minister Anne-Marie Idrac explained later that the difference between the two figures was whether tropical products were included in the tariff cut calculations or not.
"Was there new progress, new percentages? The answer is no. Peter Mandelson this morning had clarified... what technical discussions have come up with -- nothing more, nothing less," Idrac said.
Mandelson, the EU's trade commissioner, himself subsequently described the 60 percent proposal as a "reiteration" of the EU's position.
"The more we clarify, the clearer it becomes exactly what we are offering in this round," he told journalists.
Agriculture is a key bone of contention in the WTO's Doha round of trade talks which have foundered for seven years as developed and developing countries bicker over concessions on farm subsidies and tariffs on industrial goods.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy has invited ministers from around 35 key countries to Geneva this week in a bid to break the impasse and secure a deal by the year-end, before US President George W. Bush leaves office.
But Brazil, one of the key players in the round, saw little in the first day of talks to give grounds for optimism.
"Maybe it was a necessary meeting, maybe we have to go through that but it was actually totally useless from my point of view, because I did not hear any new ideas, any new suggestion, let's wait for tomorrow," Amorim said.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab was more positive about the first day of meetings, saying that there were "interesting indications" at the sessions.
"Some countries really started to talk about what they can do -- focusing on what they can do rather than what they can't do," she said.
The US and EU both urged developing countries to do more to open their markets in order to clinch a deal.
Mandelson, under strong political pressure -- notably from France, the current holders of the EU Presidency -- to harden his stance on industrial trade, said emerging economies must make "real" cuts in industrial tariffs.
"These cuts must provide some new market access in practice. That is the political bottom line. Nothing else will work for us. Nothing else will close the deal," he said.
Meanwhile Schwab noted that much of the developing world itself did not have sufficient access to the rapidly emerging markets.
"Seventy percent of the tariffs paid by developing countries are paid by other developing countries, they aren't paid by developed countries," she said.
But Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu contended that industrialised countries, and not emerging economies, were the ones that should make concessions.
"We continue to believe that huge subsidies in agriculture (by) developed countries are accountable for the distortion to the world market.
"So it is now or never that developed countries have to demonstrate their leadership in this crucial juncture by showing flexibilities and providing movements from their current and entrenched positions," she said.
Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs said it was "very hard" to see how the the US and the EU could say they were making big concessions in agriculture.
"I think it's outrageous that they (the EU and US) come here (saying) it's time for the emerging markets to play ball, the hypocrisy is breathtaking -- Oxfam is sceptical that a deal is possible in this context," he said.
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