WTO farm trade proposals get lukewarm welcome

July 26, 2007 - 0:0

GENEVA (AFP) -- World Trade Organization members including the United States and European Union gave a lukewarm welcome Tuesday to new proposals aimed at salvaging WTO talks on reducing barriers to agricultural trade.

The two trading giants said some elements were unacceptable, after a first meeting of the WTO's 150 members here to discuss the detailed technical proposals made a week ago by the chief negotiator guiding the crucial farm talks. The negotiations are part of the multilateral Doha round, launched in the Qatari capital in November 2001 with aim of tearing down barriers to global commerce. Echoing comments by other trading nations U.S. agriculture negotiator Joseph Glauber told journalists the ""draft modalities"" marked an overall improvement. However, he also highlighted significant shortcomings -- in the U.S. case largely on the extent of proposed cuts in import duties on farm produce. ""A lot of work has been done in the export competition and domestic support, in contrast with market access... a significant portion on market access is just lacking,"" Glauber told journalists. The proposals on agriculture effectively suggested that Washington should rein in overall trade-distorting support or subsidies for U.S. farmers to between 12.8 billion and 16.2 billion dollars a year. Some types of domestic subsidies do not affect international trade, according to the WTO. Glauber said that Washington was ready to make an effort on domestic support, but he said a figure in the low teens was ""out of the question."" Meanwhile, his European Union counterpart, Jean Luc Demarty, claimed that Brussels had already given way on agriculture. ""Some parts of the paper overstep the red line,"" he told journalists after the day-long meeting. The head of the farm trade negotiations, New Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer, said: ""Their comments were largely predictable."" Falconer has scheduled two weeks of intensive talks from September 3 to try to beat out a compromise. The draft proposals on two of the three pillars in the talks, agricultural and industrial trade, are aimed at reviving the stuttering six year-old trade liberalization effort. Agriculture is key obstacle in the deadlocked Doha Development Round, with cross cutting disagreements between rich and poor countries in the WTO over cuts in subsidies paid to farmers in wealthy nations and reductions in import tariffs. The G20 group of emerging and developing nations want to maximize cuts in farm subsidies paid by the United States and the EU, saying it would make it easier for poor nations to sell their produce on world markets. Brazilian ambassador Clodoaldo Hugueney underlined Tuesday that the G20's demands were largely at the ""lower end"" of Falconer's proposals -- in other words, the deepest cuts in subsidies. The WTO's 150 members are due to turn their attention to the other proposals on Non Agricultural Market Access or industrial goods, in another meeting in Geneva. Rich countries have been pressing for easier access for their industrial goods to markets in the developing world