A decades-long dispute over banana import tariffs imposed by Europe may halt WTO trade talks. A group of banana-producing nations threatened to block the WTO's global trade pact to protest a proposed shake up of the tariffs.
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A group of banana-producing nations threatened to block the WTO's long-delayed global trade pact if Europe and Latin America press ahead with proposals to shake up banana import tariffs, the minister representing the grouping said Sunday.
"We will block the (WTO) negotiations if our latest counter-proposal is not accepted," Cameroon's Trade Minister Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, spokesman for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) trade grouping, told AFP.
His comment referred to the ACP's bid to amend an agreement by the European Union to lower banana import tariffs for certain Latin American states. ACP countries fear it will harm the competitiveness of their banana industries.
ACP delegates met with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson earlier Sunday to push for higher tariffs than those agreed in the bilateral deal between the EU and a grouping of 11 Latin American banana-exporting states.
The ACP said in a statement after the meeting that it had told Mandelson the EU-Latin American proposal was "not acceptable" and offered a "last couter-proposal."
This proposed a cut in tariffs to 117 euros per tonne by 2016 -- from 176 euros per tonne currently -- rather than to 114 euros as agreed in Saturday's bilateral deal.
Before this blockage, European and Latin American negotiators seemed close to a deal that would end a quarter of a century of "banana wars" as part of mammoth trade talks here, sources close to the negotiations said Sunday.
"If they sign, it would be an historic accord ending a dispute that has lasted for 25 years." a source told AFP.
Latin American banana producers have over the years successfully challenged the EU's banana import regime before the World Trade Organization on the grounds that it discriminates against them in favour of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries -- mainly former colonies of European powers.
The deal also includes a so-called "peace clause," under which in effect the Latin American countries would promise not to reopen the case in return for the lower tariff.
It will be signed by the EU and 11 countries from Central and South America (Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela), as well as the United States.
The WTO's dispute settlement body in February ruled in favour of a complaint lodged by the US. Although the US does not export bananas to the EU itself, three of the largest producers with plantations in Latin America are US-based multinationals: Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole.
ACP countries voiced anger at the proposed deal, saying it would have a harmful impact on the competitiveness of their banana industries. ACP bananas enter the EU tariff-free.
"This has to change, it is no good," one diplomat from an ACP country said, confirming that the bloc was seeking a further high-level meeting on bananas with the European Union.
The ACP cannot prevent the EU and Latin American sides from reaching a deal but they could yet show their discontent by blocking any overall WTO deal on a new global free trade pact.
Ministers from around 35 nations have been meeting at the WTO since Monday to discuss cuts in subsidies and import tariffs with the aim of mapping out a new deal under the so-called Doha Round of talks.
Anything approved by the 35 parties meeting here would still have to be cleared by all 153 WTO member states.
Date created : 2008-07-27