WASHINGTON — The European Union presented a plan to reduce its agricultural tariffs, but the top U.S. trade official said it was not enough to reenergize the World Trade Organization's Doha trade talks.
"We are a little discouraged today by the EU proposal," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said on a conference call with reporters on Friday. "It is a modest step in the right direction, but I just believe it's inadequate to meet the promise of Doha."
The deadlock over agriculture has held up other areas of the talks, which seek to ease trade barriers on industrial goods, such as apparel, and services.
The EU proposed to cut its average agricultural tariffs 35 to 60 percent, with an average of 46 percent. Using a different formula, Portman said the average cut was actually 39 percent, less than recent proposals from the U.S. and the Brazilian-led G20 countries.
In a statement, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson maintained the offer was "substantial" and opened up the markets in the 25-nation bloc to international producers.
"Europe's major partners need to understand that this offer is conditional on immediate movement in negotiations on trade in industrial goods and services, as well as in other areas of the agricultural negotiation," said Mandelson. "These areas are important to Europe and to developing countries, and provide the only route to a balanced Doha outcome."
Trade officials are readying themselves for a December ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, where they will try to lay the groundwork to complete the talks by the end of 2006. Past ministerials, in Cancún, Mexico and Seattle, were unsuccessful, partially because trade representatives failed to lay the proper groundwork going into the meetings.
"We need to intensify these efforts, not just in agriculture," said Portman. "Both the developed world and the developing countries share the responsibility to step forward in all of these areas. We will not quit. We will not give up. The United States is convinced that a successful Doha Round is critical to economic growth globally."
Portman said there might be a teleconference this week among some of the key players in the talks to try to narrow the differences.
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