Farm Post: Direct Payments Will Continue, European Union Promises

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The European Union has reaffirmed its commitment to preserve direct payments to farmers under any new World Trade Organisation accord.

In a policy paper to be submitted to the World Trade Organisation agricultural trade negotiations in Geneva, the European Commission said such aid payments - a cornerstone of the EU's recent Agenda 2000 reforms Common Agricultural Policy reforms - had to be maintained.

Agenda 2000 continued a process started by reforms in 1992, when the EU began to switch the CAP's focus away from market support to giving farmers direct aid, such as per head payments for cattle and area aid for cereals.

The EU denies the payments distort trade.

All WTO member countries are due to submit background papers on aspects of their negotiating positions to the Geneva talks, which are continuing despite the failure in Seattle last year to launch a new global trade round. Detailed farm negotiations are scheduled to begin next March and have no fixed end date.

A group of 11 developing countries have accused the United States and the European Union of throwing up new barriers to agricultural imports from poor nations despite pledges in 1994 to open markets to their products.

The charge came in a paper by the 11 - including Pakistan, Cuba, Kenya and Zimbabwe - submitted for two days of talks at the WTO later this week, part of a process aimed at shaping an accord on further liberalisation of agricultural trade. 'Import barriers in developed countries have risen, rather than decreased, especially on sensitive products,' the paper declared.

The current WTO Agreement on Agriculture, part of the overall package setting up the now 137-member organisation signed in Morocco in 1994, should have given a new impetus to developing countries' capacity for expanding output and export of farm produce, the document said.

However, it declared, the agreement had in effect worked to give richer countries the 'special and differential treatment' that it should have guaranteed to the poorer WTO members.

The paper was submitted to the WTO Secretariat almost simultaneously with other proposals for the farm talks - which will only move into the full negotiating phase early next year - by the EU and the United States. …