THE unseemly row between the EU's trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, and the president of the EU Council of Ministers, Nicolas Sarkozy, has at least served to dramatise the crucial issues that now face the Doha Round trade talks that begin in Geneva on July 21.

These issues were publicly advertised by the director general of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy, in an open letter to the world's trade ministers which he made public yesterday. The letter read like a cri de coeur from a man who sees the chance to replace now ineffective global trade rules drawn up in 1994 slipping away if governments do not show the courage to agree to challenging reforms. Agriculture is at the heart of the problem. The reform view, held by Mr Mandelson, is that the markets of rich countries have to be opened wider to produce from poor countries; the opposition view, championed by M. Sarkozy, is that home producers must be protected from “unfair” competition (although African markets should be open to surplus European product). In return for wider markets for agricultural products poor countries should be readier to take industrial products from their manufacturers and should also trade more freely among themselves. In his letter Pascal Lamy says that there is still a better than 50 per cent chance of success in the talks but its tone and the fact that he has made it public suggest that he is not all that confident. The current economic climate is hardly on his side.


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