EU set to cut tariffs on Latin American bananas

An agreement, which could come as early as this week, would  end the world’s longest-running trade dispute and bolster the  World Trade Organisation, whose Doha negotiations to free up  global commerce have at times been held hostage by the row.

“We are in the closing stages of what could be the end of  this long dispute,” Ashton told Reuters yesterday on the  sidelines of an EU-Russia summit in Stockholm.

“I think it will be later this week or early next week,” she  said, commenting on a resolution of the decades-old dispute with  exporters in Latin America, who pay higher tariffs than African,  Caribbean and Pacific rivals to sell bananas in Europe.

The deal, which should be sealed before the WTO’s  ministerial conference starting on Nov. 30, would see the  European Union steadily cutting tariffs on bananas for suppliers  in Latin America and elsewhere.

It is likely to reduce prices for consumers, bolstering  competition and strengthening the hand of low-cost Latin  American exporters. It will help companies like Chiquita and  Dole, U.S. distributors of the region’s bananas.

One source close to the matter said, however, that some  issues remained to be resolved. “We have to agree what will  happen with regard to the Doha round on tropical fruits,” he  said.

Reuters reported earlier this month that a deal on the  dispute was emerging.

As part of the deal, the Latin Americans would drop  challenges to the EU at the WTO. “We are hopeful that an  agreement on bananas will give a momentum for a positive result  for world trade,” the source said.

Brussels would compensate African, Caribbean and Pacific  countries — mainly former British, French and Portuguese  colonies — that lose preferential access to the EU market.

The terms are likely to resemble an agreement almost reached  in July last year on the fringes of a meeting of trade ministers  seeking a breakthrough on the Doha talks.

That banana agreement was linked to a broader Doha deal in  agriculture and when the July meeting collapsed, the European  Union walked away.

Under that arrangement, the EU would have cut the tariff on  bananas to $114 a tonne by 2016, from $176, with an initial cut  to $148.

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