- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico — U.S. and EU officials yesterday stepped up their pressure on Brazil and its agricultural allies in an effort to advance stalled global trade talks.

“The [Brazil-led] Group of 21 has shown that it can unite in making demands. The question is, are those countries able to move into a negotiating mode?” said Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. trade representative.

Trade ministers from the World Trade Organization’s 148 member nations, meeting this week, hope that by tomorrow night they can reach a general agreement on how to move ahead with new worldwide rules for farm products, manufactured goods and services.

George Yeo, Singapore’s trade minister, is leading the agricultural negotiations for the WTO. He was expected as soon as last night to deliver a compromise paper on agriculture that would be used as a basis for further negotiations.

“This will be the moment of truth for everybody, because you have to work from a document,” said a senior U.S. trade official, who asked not to be named.

U.S. trade negotiators softened their comments toward the Group of 21 through the course of the day, reflecting a moderately upbeat midday meeting of the EU, G-21 and Mr. Yeo, though no breakthroughs were achieved.

“It was a very useful meeting. It helped clarify positions,” said Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. trade representative.

At least one G-21 country concurred.

“It means we are negotiating,” said Martin Redrado, trade minister for Argentina, one of the G-21. “I think the meeting we had [yesterday] was a constructive one. The U.S. is perceiving that we are not here to confront.”

Agriculture is the key issue at the talks, and a wide-ranging group of middle-income and poor countries, including Brazil, India and China, have banded together to demand that the 15-nation European Union, the United States, Japan and other countries make heavy reductions in financial support to farmers.

In 2002, U.S. farm support was 17.6 percent of the value of farm receipts, compared with 36.5 percent in the European Union and 59 percent in Japan, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

U.S. and EU officials said they are willing to reduce or eliminate some payments to farmers, but demanded that major agricultural producers like Brazil offer concessions of their own — namely, opening markets to outside farm goods. Without a farm compromise, the wide-ranging talks would break down.

“Without flexibility, without an effort on the other side, these talks will get very, very difficult,” said Franz Fischler, EU agriculture commissioner.

The United States is wooing other countries to its cause, emphasizing that Brazil speaks for a minority of WTO nations.

“Many countries, including many developing countries, indicated that they have views that are not identical to the Group of 21, and making it clear that the spokesman for the Group of 21 is not a spokesman for most of the developing countries,” Mr. Allgeier said.

Brazil responded indirectly in a written statement: “It is even more important, at this stage, that we concentrate our efforts in trying to negotiate and not direct our energies at attacking countries or groups of countries.”

U.S. trade officials also have indicated that they would work with members of the G-21 group that are ready to move faster toward a compromise — an effort that probably would split the alliance.

“In our discussions, the majority of the G-21 nations need and want results out of Cancun. They want to move forward. They’re not interested in blocking,” the U.S. trade official said.

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