WTO deal ‘could be agreed soon’

Brussels: A World Trade Organisation agreement on cutting tariffs and farm subsidies is possible by the end of this month, European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said.

“It’s full steam ahead for an agreement by the end of July,” Mr Fischler said after he and Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy discussed a WTO draft with their counterparts from the US, Brazil, Australia and India.

The blueprint includes proposals for phasing out agricultural export subsidies, reworking rules for farm aid and slashing tariffs on farm and manufactured goods.

The draft still requires “clarifications on curbing trade-distorting export subsidy tools,” as well as “balance” in certain areas, Mr Fischler said.

“We agreed much more work was needed.”

The talks on a global accord that the World Bank says may be worth as much as $500 billion began in 2001 and are scheduled to wrap up by 2005. Negotiators are aiming to conclude discussions on a draft agreement at a meeting of the WTO’s 147 members in Geneva next week.

Similar talks crumbled in September in Cancun, Mexico, after the poorest nations balked at rules for investment and government contracting. Developing countries such as Brazil and India said the US and the EU would need to do more to cut their agriculture subsidies.

According to the WTO document, two of the toughest issues that remain are the way countries will cut farm duties and the issue of cotton subsidies, which poor African nations want treated separately from agricultural issues. The proposal rejects that demand.

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