- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

DOHA, Qatar The World Trade Organization yesterday was on the brink of a deal to begin negotiations that will pry open new markets for farm products, industrial goods and services.
Wrapping up five days of talks in the tiny Persian Gulf emirate, WTO ministers methodically crunched through unresolved issues in lengthy pre-dawn meetings.
About 50 trade officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, crowded into a conference room in the Sheraton Hotel in the Qatari capital of Doha to hash out specific deals.
They were wrangling over the precise wording of the declaration that will guide negotiations in the 142-member WTO, an essential but mind-numbing process, trade officials said.
"They're producing texts that are not too easy for normal people to comprehend," one official said. "But it's happening."
The agreement will mark the start of the first set of global trade talks since 1986.
U.S. and foreign officials said that the desire to give a boost to the world economy in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States also helped speed talks in Doha.
But a sticking point remained with India, which has mounted strong resistance to European proposals for the WTO to begin work in the area of environmental regulations, trade officials said.
India and other developing countries fear that environmental rules in trade agreements could result in a "Green protectionism" that will exclude their goods from the markets of rich countries.
But a senior U.S. official predicted that India will not stand alone in opposition to a new round of trade talks, despite its threats to walk out.
"It's one more thing where India will have to decide," the U.S. official said.
A key breakthrough came as the 15-nation European Union, and France in particular, succumbed to pressure from the rest of the world to negotiate steep reductions in its costly farm subsidies.
WTO members also ratified a provisional agreement struck Monday to give poor countries added leeway to skirt international patent rules to fight epidemics like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.
But the United States also bowed to demands that it negotiate changes to a system for penalizing imports that are "dumped" on the American market at unreasonably low prices.
While a source of irritation for Japan, Brazil and other countries, the "anti-dumping" rules are hugely popular with Congress. Mr. Zoellick will face heavy criticism on this point when he returns to Washington, congressional sources said.
With negotiations now formally under way, WTO members hope to get agreement on a trade-liberalizing package in a few years.
The agreement became possible over the last three days as a group of countries led by Australia campaigned for a commitment that countries eliminate subsidies for exports of agricultural goods.
Critics of the payments charge that they coddle European farmers who are too inefficient to compete in the world market.
With the tacit support of the United States, these nations managed to isolate the European Union. Japan and Korea, both of whom heavily subsidize their farmers, had lined up against Europe by last Saturday.
Nevertheless, European trade officials wrangled into the night over language in the declaration that will help them sell the Doha agreement at home, even if it seems contradictory.
France in particular has resisted concessions on farm trade in Doha.
Europe had objected to language in a draft that called for the "phasing out" of export subsidies on the grounds that it ordained the results of negotiations that are just getting going.
As a result, WTO members tweaked the wording to state that they will negotiate on farm-export subsidies "without prejudging the outcome."


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