- The Washington Times - Friday, May 14, 2004

PARIS (AP) — Australia, Canada and other major agricultural exporters said yesterday they would work with developing countries on a proposal to cut global import tariffs on farm goods.

The 17-nation Cairns group is teaming up with the G-20 group of poorer states to produce a blueprint they hope will be acceptable to all other members of the World Trade Organization, Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson said.

The announcement came after two days of talks in the French capital.

“The work will be done by the Cairns group and the G-20,” Mr. Peterson said, although he said that negotiators would welcome suggestions from others among the WTO’s 147 member states.

“It is a collective view that we are trying to find a compromise answer that will be acceptable to all the different ambitions,” said Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile. “It is a major challenge to try and resolve this, but we have got to try.”

The initiative comes after the G-20, led by Brazil, rejected a proposal put together last year by the European Union and the United States.

The issue of agricultural tariffs is the biggest obstacle in negotiations on a global treaty to cut barriers to trade and boost the global economy.

The WTO has set a deadline of the end of July to complete a framework on principles for the treaty to liberalize trade in farm goods, manufactured products and service industries.

The last attempt to do that — in Cancun, Mexico, last September — collapsed, primarily because of differences over agriculture.

“I would say that we are on the verge of seeing the … historic breakthrough in areas which are key to our negotiations,” WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said.

Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, who led yesterday’s meeting, said it had been useful.

“It isn’t the fact that we know what we have in common, but the fact that now we know where there is divergence,” he said. “And we have the political will.”

Despite expressions of renewed hope, big problems remain. Finding a proposal on tariffs that is acceptable to all WTO members will be difficult.

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