A two-pronged counter proposal tabled by six Latin American countries on Monday could signal the end to the long-running dispute with ACP nations over banana imports into the European Union (EU).
In a concessionary move to the ACP, the so-called 'Tropical Products Group' of WTO member governments – comprising Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Bolivia and Nicaragua – has offered to leave bananas out of a list of products (tariff lines) for which they are pushing duty-free access to the EU.
At the same time, it proposes an EU banana import tariff cut in 2009 to €141 per tonne, falling to €109 per tonne by 2014; slightly lower than the cut to €150 in 2009 and €116-tax-per-tonne-by-2015 deal offered by WTO director-general Pascal Lamy and accepted by EU ministers on Friday.
ACP and EU trade officials had not commented on the proposal as Fruitnet.com went to press, but the Tropical Products Group’s offer to leave bananas and 31 other product lines out of its liberalisation commitment with the EU is considered to be a significant step towards ending the long-running banana war.
“We think this is a pretty significant proposal. It has substance. We would expect the ACP is taking it seriously,” Alistair Smith of Norwich-based non-profit group Banana Link told Fruitnet.com.
“We can see light at the end of the tunnel. We are hoping there is banana agreement because there are other more important issues that need to be addressed within the banana sector, and this dispute has been a significant distraction for the last 15 years.”
The Tropical Fruits Group’s counter proposal comes after several Latin American countries rejected a banana trade compromise brokered by Mr Lamy three days before make-or-break Doha Round talks began in Geneva.
Colombia accepted the EU’s Friday deal, but other nations, including Ecuador, said the tariff reductions were not generous enough.
The EU currently gives duty-free access to bananas from former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific (ACP). ACP countries are opposed to low EU tariffs for Latin American bananas, claiming their economies would suffer to the point of ruin from resulting loss of exports.
Pundits fear a continuing impasse over EU banana imports could derail WTO efforts to seal a global trade pact during its summit this week.
The week-long Doha Round of talks – named after the capital of Qatar where they began in 2001 – opened on 21 July. 152 countries are involved.