African trade ministers attending the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong have laid out their demands - they want a firm commitment by richer countries to end farm subsidies and tariffs by a specific date. They also want an end to subsidies for cotton farmers in the developed world.
African delegates voiced their demands as concerns grow that a package to help the world's least developed countries might fail. The world's trade ministers Wednesday remain far apart on a range of issues including agriculture and market access.
African Union Trade Commissioner Elizabeth Tankeu says that African nations do not expect a full agreement out of this meeting, but they want to see tangible progress toward the eventual elimination of farm subsidies.
Mrs. Tankeu says subsidies are Africa's main concern because, she says, the support that rich nations give their farmers allows them to dump lower-priced products. That, she says, undermines Africans' capacity to produce and trade competitively.
Another key issue is cotton. A number of sub-Saharan economies depend largely on cotton crops - but they have to directly compete with heavily subsidized U.S. growers. The United States has proposed accelerating cuts in its subsidies and offered a bigger package of aid for trade - worth two-point-seven billion dollars a year.
Talks between African cotton-producing nations and the United States began here Tuesday. African ministers on Wednesday said they want a statement on cotton by the end of the week.
Most African nations do not have the resources to subsidize their farmers. Ibrahim Malloum is a Chadian cotton producer who heads the African Cotton Association. He says rich nations' subsidies cost African cotton-producing nations $400 million a year.
"We did not pay to come here to listen to proposals that are not sincere. We are here because we want a solution on cotton subsidies," he said. "If we don't have a solution we have no reason to join any consensus on any other agreements."
U.S. officials discussing the United States' aid and development package here Wednesday urged WTO members to avoid sliding into protectionism. They say that liberalizing trade is the only way to lift nations out of poverty.