- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

CANCUN, Mexico — The World Trade Organization’s chairman yesterday offered a compromise on new global commerce rules that would force cuts in farm subsidies in some rich countries, but many groups said it did not go far enough to help developing nations.

Delegates from the WTO’s 148 member states received the draft document yesterday afternoon and later began a final push to reach a general agreement on how to move ahead with new worldwide rules for farm products and manufactured goods and services. Talks here are scheduled to end today.

The document leaves many questions unanswered and sets no deadlines, reflecting the disparate views of the countries that have engaged in sometimes bitter negotiations.

“There are positive elements and there are other elements we will work to improve and clarify. Now comes the crucial give and take toward a final document. We will continue to push for high ambition balanced by appropriate flexibility,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said.

The final deadline for a global trade agreement is the end of next year, but the Cancun meeting is crucial to meeting that goal.

U.S. and European Union farm subsidies have become the single most important issue since the meeting began Wednesday.

The United States and European Union ran headfirst into a bloc of more than 20 countries led by Brazil, dubbed the G-21, and other developing nations that demanded an end to billions of dollars in supports paid to farmers. The subsidies can lower world prices, sometimes below the cost of production, hurting farmers in poor countries who are not financially supported by their own governments.

Brazil’s foreign minister said the draft was not acceptable for his country or G-21.

“The problem is to see if this draft in the end will or will not meet our demands. So far this is not sufficient,” Celso Amorim told reporters.

A group of four African nations drew special attention to the economic impact on their cotton farmers from U.S. subsidies, which can reach $3 billion a year. Their reaction to the draft, which calls for study of the problem and no new subsidies, was negative.

“It’s pretty lousy,” Nicolas Imboden, an adviser to Benin’s government, told the Associated Press.

Brazil and its G-21 allies did not immediately react to the document, though the proposal did not go as far as they had asked. A spokesman for other developing countries said the document was inadequate.

“The final text can’t look like this,” said Hegel Goutier, a spokesman for African, Caribbean and Pacific nations that have allied for the WTO talks.

The agreement also disregards another demand from a different group of developing nations by proposing to start talks on trade facilitation — revising customs rules — and government procurement. The European Union and Japan also had pushed for rules that would ease investment by multinational corporations and for rules that would prohibit most national monopolies. But those would not immediately be considered.

U.S. observers had different takes on the agreement.

“I think it’s a step forward, it will keep the talks going,” said William Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a Washington-based business group.

Manufacturing groups have worried that negotiators are not going far enough to cut worldwide trade barriers.

“Today’s draft gives too big of a pass to the more advanced developing economies that already are major exporters,” said Frank Vargo, vice president for international affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, a District-based business lobby.


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