After weeks of fussing and stalling, the European Community finally put a proposal to cut farm subsidies on the bargaining table at multilateral trade talks. It's about time and long overdue.
Inadequate as the EC's proposal is--it calls only for moderate cuts, considered paltry by some--at least it is something and better than nothing. Now the question is, will the EC really negotiate in good faith with 23 days to go before final talks? The 12-nation group was the last major player among 105 countries to submit a proposal to reduce farm subsidies and supports that distort world trade. It repeatedly delayed action, which could have jeopardized four years of trade talks.
The EC's machinations over a farm proposal may have been all for naught, considering what it brought to the bargaining table was essentially what members and farmers were bickering about before and since the group missed the Oct. 15 deadline for submitting a plan. It proposed a 30% cut in farm subsidies over 10 years but some reductions have been made already. It did not address market access and export subsidies.
Agriculture is one of the 15 trade categories under discussion since 1986, when the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade began talks in Uruguay. Securing a reduction in farm subsidies and supports from developed nations is a necessary quid pro quo to get developing countries to support new trade rules on services, intellectual properties and investments. Current trade rules only apply to manufactured goods. The United States has maintained that agriculture is crucial to the talks, which involve developing countries for the first time. A breakdown could result in the emergence of regional blocs.