July 7, 2008 / 12:21 AM / 9 years ago

Business group pushes Harper to back WTO farm deal

OTTAWA (Reuters) - A powerful Canadian business group wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to change his stance on agricultural trade to help achieve a breakthrough in the Doha Round of world trade talks.

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce on Friday published a letter it sent to Harper this week that said the Conservative government’s defense of protectionist measures for certain farm sectors is “untenable” and a possible barrier to global economic growth and poverty reduction.

“The time has come for the government to empower our officials with greater flexibility to negotiate,” said the letter, signed by Perrin Beatty, president of the Chamber.

“The Canadian Chamber of Commerce ... urges you and your government to sign on to this important modalities agreement.”

Officials in the Prime Minister’s office were not immediately available to comment.

Ottawa in May rejected a draft text on farm trade aimed at pushing ahead the stalled World Trade Organization talks.

The proposals would force Canada to modify a decades-old marketing scheme that protects its poultry and dairy producers from foreign competition through price controls and import tariffs of over 200 percent.

Canada’s Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said at the time the government was “disappointed” by the proposal and he vowed to defend the scheme.

July is a make-or-break month for the negotiations, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said on Friday. Lamy has invited trade ministers to Geneva from July 21 to broker deals in the two most sensitive areas -- cuts to farming tariffs and subsidies, and import duties on manufactured goods.

“Our refusal to be more flexible undermines the entire, fragile WTO negotiations,” Beatty wrote.

“It is neither realistic nor constructive for Canada to demand that other countries provide new market access opportunities for Canadian exporters while we refuse to accept any over-quota tariff cuts or tariff quota expansion for sensitive products,” he said.

Trade Minister Michael Fortier, a newcomer with less than a month on the job, and Ritz will be in Geneva for the ministerial meeting, government officials said on Friday.

Reporting by Louise Egan; editing by Janet Guttsman

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