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Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Agricultural trade treaty submitted by poor countries


A group of poorer countries sub-mitted their own proposal for a global agricultural trade treaty Wednesday, demanding wealthy countries do more to help less-affluent nations.

The proposal from Brazil, India, China and 13 other countries calls on the WTO to force rich countries to make big cuts to import duties and farm subsidies while making much smaller demands on poorer nations.

Wednesday's document is in reaction to a joint proposal put forward last week by the US and the EU which called for big cuts in duties but stopped short of agreeing to complete elimination of export subsidies -- a key demand of developing countries.

Negotiators are trying to reach consensus on a blueprint for negotiations in agriculture and other areas of trade before a meeting of ministers from all 146 WTO members in Cancun, Mexico, starting Sept. 10.

The proposal offered Wednesday demands elimination of export subsidies and major cuts in other sorts of subsidies, but gives a great deal of leeway to developing countries. In the crucial area of cuts to import tariffs, it calls for rich nations to make much more substantial cuts than poor ones.

The proposal was signed by 16 countries -- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, South Africa and Thailand.

EU senior negotiator Peter Carl was unimpressed.

"It is a repetition of well-known positions that we have heard for the past three years. There is nothing new in it," he told reporters.

US agriculture negotiator Allen Johnson was more measured, but said that at first sight "it is hard to see that there is the level of ambition in all three [areas] and that everyone would be contributing to the reform process."

Many of the countries that signed the document are members of the Cairns Group of 17 agricultural exporters, but developed countries that belong to the group -- Australia, New Zealand and Canada -- are not on the list.

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