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Bid to break G-20

By Sushma Ramachandran

NEW DELHI, APRIL 17. By having regular consultations, the Group of 20 developing countries is trying hard to resist efforts to break the coalition. The European Union is expected to take the first step to divide the group by offering market access concessions on agricultural exports from Latin American countries in the Mercosur customs union. The E.U. is clearly planning to wean Brazil, one of the leading lights in the G-20, away from the rest of the group.

Official sources here, however, insist that the leading G-20 countries such as India, South Africa, Brazil and China are acutely conscious of the efforts by the E.U. and the U.S to break the coalition. The group is therefore trying to have regular interactions to ensure a uniformity of approach at next week's agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva when the E.U. is expected to make its offer.

The G-20 has been a thorn in the flesh of the E.U. and the U.S. ever since it was formed last year in the run-up to the Cancun ministerial conference of the WTO. The group was constituted by developing countries as a reaction to the proposals submitted by the E.U. and the U.S. on reduction of their enormous agricultural subsidies. The E.U.-U.S. proposals did not go very far in terms of a time frame for cutting these subsidies and instead there was a focus on market access to be provided by developing countries. Several developing countries therefore decided to adopt a united approach to this contentious issue, with India, South Africa, and Brazil taking the lead in creating what is now known as the G-20.

Though the E.U. has publicly been saying that the concerns of developing countries will have to be taken more seriously after the Cancun meeting, their actual offers as part of the agriculture talks are not expected to go very far. Sources close to trade negotiators say the views of France continue to dominate in the E.U. even though countries such as the United Kingdom are opposed to the continuation of large agricultural subsidies. Even the President of the European Commission, Romani Prodi, said during a visit here that the E.U. had been forced to rethink its approach to trade negotiations with developing countries after the events at Cancun.

Despite this public stance, the European Commission seems to be trying to break the coalition of developing countries instead of offering a firm time table for cutting its huge subsidies

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