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Tue, Jun 15, 2004 - Page 12 News List

WTO head seeks agriculture deal ahead of talks

AFP , SAO PAULO

WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi urged developing countries and representatives from industrialized states to reach agreement on the divisive topic of agricultural subsidies and tariffs Sunday as he attended a UN development summit here.

Talking on the sidelines of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, where he has been meeting G20 leaders, US and EU trade officials, Panitchpakdi urged a breakthrough ahead of expected WTO talks in Geneva next month.

"We are not yet clear on all the issues," the WTO head explained.

The Doha round of WTO talks collapsed in the Mexican city of Cancun in September.

The Cancun talks failed following a bitter dispute between developing and industrialized states over cross-border investment and competition, which added to a more fundamental dispute about richer states' farming subsidies and tariffs imposed on agriculture imports by developing economies.

"We have not yet established the full level of commitment on all three levels," Panitchpakdi said.

"At least commitments are there ... They need to have more specificity ... in terms of the framework of market access."

Commenting on a meeting of negotiators from the US, the EU, Australia, India and Brazil, he said "this will give us early signals as to how, what we can do to remedy hesitation in Geneva."

EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy emerged from the meeting saying participants had acknowledged that much work needs to be done.

The US and Europe have lately offered concessions on export subsidies and asked the developing nations to respond with generous offers.

Lamy said compromises have been put on the table and that there appeared to be the political will to restart the stalled liberalization talks.

"The political will is there, the export subsidies could disappear, the domestic support that distorts commerce that has to be substantially reduced, and the access to markets that has to be substantially improved," Lamy said.

He voiced optimism a consensus could be reached by late next month.

"We have the opportunity of doing something historic," said US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, adding that Sunday's meeting had occurred at a critical juncture.

"We are conscious that agriculture is the key that could open this door."

Developing nations were represented in Sunday's meeting by Brazil and India.

The WTO is heading into meetings to conclude the so-called Doha round of trade liberalization talks by the end of the year.

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