Bs. Aires - European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson yesterday firmly ruled out any improved EU offer for the farm sector until it has received a counteroffer to open up industry and service sectors, arguing that trade was a two-way street and that all offers had to be on the table.
At a high-powered press conference yesterday, he described his two days of meetings in Argentina as "successful, interesting and revealing," showing this country to be more open than its defensive image.
Commissioner Mandelson, the chief EU trade negotiator, met with Cabinet ministers and prominent businessmen during two days of talks aimed at easing the way to an agreement in the EU-Mercosur trade talks and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Doha trade round.
The former British Labour spin doctor listed the main government officials he had met as Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández (all issues), Federal Planning Minister Julio De Vido (utilities and TV standards), Economy Minister Felisa Miceli (mostly agriculture) and Foreign Ministry International Relations Secretary Alfredo Chiarardia (trade issues). Mandelson highlighted TV standards as not only permitting better viewing but mew technological options, export possibilities and a wider research and development (R&D) base.
As for the EU-Mercosur trade talks, he said that the Brussels goal was to reach an agreement "as strong and high-performance" as with Chile, covering 90 percent of trade. Any agreement should balance industry and agriculture with real tariff cuts and market access. But he also stipulated a "genuine single market" within Mercosur as a precondition.
Mandelson said that he was impressed by the desire expressed by businessmen and government ministers alike to open Argentina as an international economy but asked that these desires now be turned into a "real-term offer" so that WTO Doha round talks can be successfully concluded by a self-imposed April deadline.
"Argentina should not shield its industry from international competition. It has lots of comparative advantages (not only in agriculture) and must take up this challenge in order to grow from strength to strength," he said.
The EU has recently set in motion the reform of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to break down 50-year-old barriers to agricultural trade and is using this as a key negotiating tool in the trade talks.
"There is a revolution underway in European agriculture and I hope that this is recognized here. We are willing to pursue and consolidate these agriculture reforms, where Argentina will be a main beneficiary, but we are still waiting for a real offer in industry and services."
The commissioner reacted strongly to recent media reports suggesting that the US perceived itself as the key broker to an agreement between the EU and other WTO members, scolding Washington for interfering before it has improved on its own "incomplete offer" on agriculture.
Not for the first time, but hopefully for the last, the Commissioner said that WTO talks have reached the "moment of truth" with their "level of ambition" yet to be determined and "if we are to reach an accord by the end of April, as promised, there must be intensive, quiet and constant exchange between the key players to build consensus and secure agreement."
The brief question period was largely wasted with three of the four questions about Brazil (where Mandelson will be spending the rest of the week, flying there yesterday afternoon) in the light of Finance Minister Antonio Palocci's resignation.
By Michael Soltys and William Surman - Buenos Aires Herald