- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

From combined dispatches

The World Trade Organization yesterday circulated a revised draft declaration for a ministerial trade conference in Mexico in two weeks.

The highly anticipated, 21-page outline covers key areas of free-trade negotiations, including decisions in areas such as agriculture and market access for industrial products.

Although no agreement has been made on its contents, the declaration suggests frameworks, mostly without figures, for ministers of the 146-member World Trade Organization to consider at the Sept. 10-14 meeting in the Mexican resort town of Cancun.

Meanwhile, top executives of companies including Unilever PLC, Boeing Co. and Pfizer Inc. are urging global trade negotiators to limit their agendas in Cancun to reaching accords on farm subsidies and access to cheap drugs.

Entrenched positions among countries as well as a flurry of proposals last week held up the release of the draft declaration, originally due to be published Friday.

Diplomats waited late yesterday at WTO headquarters in Geneva for the document’s release, which negotiators will consider before meeting today to give their initial reactions.

On agriculture, the draft text reflects some elements of a joint plan that the European Union and United States released Aug. 13, but gives more detail on special provisions for developing countries.

It calls for eliminating export subsidies for products “of particular interest to developing countries.”

For remaining products, it proposes reductions “with a view to phasing out budgetary and quantity allowances for export subsidies,” although it adds that the target phase-out date is open for negotiation.

Tariff reductions by developed countries should be managed under a “blended” formula involving gentler average cuts for some products, as well as steeper cuts on higher tariffs for others.

The draft text offers alternative solutions for developing countries but states that they should benefit from “lower tariff reductions and longer implementation periods.”

Concerning state aid for farmers, the text calls for limits on certain types of support.

Leading executives are concerned that trade negotiations will collapse unless WTO ministers agree to focus on only key issues such as agriculture and access to cheaper drugs.

Last week, chief executives including Peter Brabeck of Nestle SA, Josef Ackermann of Deutsche Bank AG, Henry McKinnell of Pfizer and Unilever co-Chairman Niall FitzGerald issued a statement calling on the trade ministers to put aside subjects such as investment rules, cuts to industrial tariffs and financial-services codes in the interest of ensuring negotiations don’t fall apart before their 2005 deadline.

“If there is no progress” on agriculture and poor countries’ access to medicines, “it’s highly unlikely there will be progress on anything else,” Mr. FitzGerald, head of the world’s biggest maker of household products, said last week at the World Economic Forum in Geneva.

Trade talks have deadlocked over how much to cut agricultural subsidies and how to ensure that poor countries receive access to cheap medicines.

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