- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) — Top trade negotiators met yesterday in a push to break down global trade barriers but made little progress in a bid to create a free trade zone covering the European Union and four South American countries.

The meetings were taking place on the sidelines of a 180-nation U.N. forum on trade and development, which brought together representatives of the world’s richest and poorest countries in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial and industrial capital.

Developing nations were expected to renew calls for better access to the markets of the wealthier economies at the 11th session of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development. But they also faced pressure to reduce their own trade barriers.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick was set to meet with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in a move to break an impasse over agricultural subsidies in developed countries.

Agricultural issues are a key stumbling block as a July deadline looms in the stalled Doha round of World Trade Organization talks aimed at slashing subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to global commerce.

“We meet again at a crucial moment, as we enter the final phase of the negotiations on a framework text for agriculture,” Mr. Amorim said before his meeting with Mr. Zoellick.

The European Union agreed in principle last month to scrap export subsidies on farm produce — blamed for hurting producers in poor countries — and dropped demands for new global rules on investment, competition and government procurement.

The United States already has signaled readiness to scrap its own much smaller export subsidies and trade-distorting export credits.

But both Washington and Brussels have stressed that the concessions are conditional on poorer countries agreeing to open their own markets.

Mr. Amorim also met with EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy on the formation of a trade bloc linking the European Union and South America’s Mercosur group — Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The two sides hope to seal a free trade deal by October, but Mr. Amorim and Mr. Lamy told reporters the two sides are still far apart on the key issues of agricultural subsidies, services and government procurement.

They ordered their teams of negotiators to continue working through today in Sao Paulo and stressed they are still committed to the October deadline.

“The political will exists to reach an accord, and it will not be a superficial accord,” Mr. Amorim said.

Added Mr. Lamy: “We agreed that we want an ambitious result. Today, after the meeting, we have better sense of what the issues are and how we can resolve them.”

Members of the world’s least developed countries also gathered yesterday as the conference began, discussing ways to boost trade among developing countries to boost their share of the global economy.

The weeklong forum is drawing leaders of Latin American countries, plus trade ministers and development officials from most other nations.

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