7 Apr 2009

New Zealander likely to chair WTO farm talks

6:24 pm on 7 April 2009

New Zealand's new ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, David Walker, is likely to be appointed chairman of the organisation's sensitive agriculture negotiations, a senior European Union official says.

The European Commission's deputy director-general for trade, Peter Balas, says Mr Walker is considered the front-runner for the position.

Agriculture, together with industrial goods, forms one of the core areas of negotiations in the WTO's Doha round, launched in late 2001 to free up world trade.

An outline agreement must be reached in these areas before a comprehensive trade deal can be concluded.

Mr Balas said no final decision had yet been taken on Mr Walker's appointment, which must be approved by WTO members.

Another candidate, Uruguay's WTO ambassador Guillermo Valles Galmes, had drawn opposition from the alliance of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, who object to the Latin American food exporter's agricultural policies.

Brazil's ambassador Roberto Azevedo, who had also been seen as a potential candidate, had decided not to run, trade diplomats said.

The former chairman was Crawford Falconer, the previous New Zealand ambassador, who was recalled to Wellington this month to take up a senior foreign ministry post.

Agriculture accounts for only a small part of world trade, but is important to developing countries keen to defend the interests of their millions of subsistence farmers.

For many developing countries, who make up the majority of the WTO's 153 members, eliminating distortions in farm trade that benefit rich countries is the main business of the Doha talks.