BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Countries that want to boost their trade with Europe said on Wednesday they were frustrated by European Union trade barriers they claim hamper their ability to tap into the world’s largest market.
On the first of a two-day public assessment of EU trade policy at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, dozens of countries attacked EU red tape, food standards, crisis payments to industry, farm subsidies and defensive trade barriers.
Europe’s “decision to refrain from tightening restrictions on imports ... had a stabilising effect on the multilateral trading system,” the WTO said in its review.
However it said that “long-standing barriers to market access and other measures that distort international competition remain in place.”
Specifically, Europe should phase out crisis payments to its car, construction and tourism sectors “once the economic recovery has taken hold” and harmonise rules on public contracts, it said.
Taking aim at Europe’s notorious food quality and technical standards, the WTO warned these should “not create unnecessary obstacles to trade with third countries.”
U.S. Ambassador Michael Punke denounced high EU farm tariffs and food safety standards, which have closed Europe’s doors to goods such as U.S. chicken and biotech cereal, saying they “appear to lack sufficient scientific justification.”
More than 40 other countries questioned Europe’s trade policy, most criticising the bloc’s unwillingness to open its farm market and its widespread use of protective trade barriers against rival producers, diplomats said.
“Europe is the most important trading region in the world, so of course countries will complain if its markets aren’t open,” one diplomat said.
Brazil, noting that the EU is its largest trading partner, accounting for about 22 percent of its foreign trade last year, urged the bloc to tackle its “existing trade barriers and distortions” in a way benefiting all sides.
“In recent years, the Common Agricultural Policy has been moving towards more market-oriented measures, but at an extremely slow pace,” Brazil’s ambassador Roberto Azevedo said.
“European producers have systematically and unfairly, in our view, competed with farmers from the developing world, inducing and aggravating food dependency in the poorest countries.”
EU agricultural export subsidies remain a concern and market access to the EU’s highly regulated agricultural market is still a formidable challenge, Azevedo said.
WTO members have submitted more than 1,000 questions to the EU on its trade practices, diplomats said. One added that a similar review on the trade policy of China had prompted twice as many questions.
EU trade officials will respond to Wednesday’s criticisms on Friday. A statement by the EU trade chief’s office highlighted the WTO’s praise for EU policy including trade schemes for poor countries and the greater cohesion of the EU’s internal market.
Editing by Michael Roddy