EU Agriculture Commissioner Fischler has expressed his regret that WTO members failed to meet the 31 March deadline to agree on the modalities for the WTO agriculture negotiations.

“The EU has been working hard to meet this deadline. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out. We regret this. But missing this deadline is not the end of the world. Several other WTO deadlines have been missed. Now we will have to plough on.

“More important than a deadline is real effort to inject new dynamism into the negotiations, to keep working to narrow existing gaps. We have to ensure that we can develop a balanced set of modalities, which address the concerns of all the parties involved. We have to concentrate our attention on pursuing the negotiations to ensure that we can establish a comprehensive set of modalities and contribute to making the Cancún Ministerial Meeting in September a success,” he said.

Fischler added that the EU had done its homework to move the WTO agriculture talks forward. “The EU modalities proposal represents a middle way between extreme positions. It goes a long way to meet all interests represented in the WTO: greater market access for all, lower trade-distorting farm subsidies, sharp reductions for all forms of export aid, consideration of non-trade issues such as food safety and the environment – and preferential, targeted treatment for developing countries. Our proposal also contains hard figures on how to achieve these goals. But these are not things that we are prepared to do on our own. If we are to make these substantial reductions to our tariffs and trade-distorting support, we need, and want, our partners to go down this same road. It is not only our export subsidies that can be viewed as trade-distorting after all: what about bogus food aid, export credits and the pricing practices of certain state trading enterprises?” he asked.

Commenting on the modalities debate as it currently stands, Fischler called the draft proposal which came out of Geneva “disappointing”.

“It still leaves wide gaps between the different members that still need to be bridged. To assume that all policies are the same with respect to these trade-distorting elements is a mistake to say the least. Double standards provide no basis for a comparison and this fact needs to be taken account of in the establishment of the modalities.”

He also criticised the “notable absence of non-trade concerns” in the draft. “For societies from Mauritius to Malta, from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, farming is also about concerns about the environment, food safety, safeguarding the supply of food and protecting the rural way of life. The Doha Declaration clearly states that they have to be an integral part of these negotiations.”