Leading agricultural producers Brazil and Australia recently urged the European Union to grant increased market access to farm goods in order to advance the Doha round of international trade talks.

‘The European Union, in the name of a fairer international trading system, must be prepared to give further ground on market access for agriculture products,’ Alexander Downer, Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, told journalists during a visit to Brasilia. ‘We will continue to fight for that over the next few months.’

At the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Hong Kong last month, member countries agreed to end farm export subsidies by 2013 and partially open rich nation markets to the poorest nations.

Yet many participants considered the interim accord insufficient and warned that the talks involving 149 states may not be concluded as scheduled by the end of this year.

‘In the logic of the current negotiations, market access will determine whether there will be a virtuous cycle leading to a positive result, and that depends fundamentally on the European Union,’ said Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister.

The United States also says the 25-nation EU must offer easier access to its consumers for farm imports than the proposal on the table.

‘We need movement by the EU. ... They really hold the key,’ US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said last month. ‘We need them to move forward on market access.’

French President Jacques Chirac said EU member France would keep a close eye on developments following the interim deal reached in Hong Kong.

‘France will be very vigilant on the follow-up to the WTO agreement,’ Chirac said in a New Year’s speech to the media.

Amorim repeated Brazil’s proposal for a summit of world leaders to help kick-start the talks and said that the World Economic Forum in Davos later this month could be an appropriate venue.

‘At the level of negotiators there is limited maneuvering space, what is needed is a political impulse,’ he said.

Asked about Australia’s participation in a possible summit, Downer said that Prime Minister John Howard would be ‘happy to participate in any constructive initiative—we shouldn’t give up, we should fight on.’

Brazil’s farm exports include soybeans, meat, orange juice, sugar, and coffee. It has championed the cause of developing countries in the WTO talks for the past two years. (Reuters)