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WTO Reaches Historic Deal to Open Global Free Trade Talks - 2004-08-01


Delegates to the World Trade Organization have agreed to a deal, which experts say will boost world economic growth by liberalizing world trade. The agreement restarts stalled free trade talks, known as the Doha Development Round, which collapsed last September at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

After a week of marathon talks, the World Trade Organization's 147 members approved the agreement by consensus, marking what WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi calls an historical moment for the organization.

He says the framework agreement will lead toward the elimination of export subsidies, a reduction in domestic subsidies and will produce gains in market access.

The WTO chief says rich countries will benefit from this accord, as well as the poorer countries, especially in the area of agriculture. That was one of the issues that led to the collapse of the Cancun talks.

"There will be more opportunities for their products to be traded at a multi-lateral level, because of the elimination of the subsidies, domestic and export level," said Mr. Panitchpakdi. "The prices that they are bound to gain would be also higher. In terms of industrial goods, there will be real effort that will be made in the reduction of high tariffs, so that employment could be created."

European Union Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler calls this a good day for the world economy, for Europe and especially for the developing countries.

"The result of these negotiations will give a push to the world economy, and will create more growth, more agricultural trade and will give better chances to the poor countries in the world," he said.

West African countries achieved a breakthrough in their demands that rich countries stop subsidizing their cotton farmers. Under the agreement, the United States and other nations have decided that cotton subsidies be treated on a separate fast track. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says he is pleased with the outcome of this negotiation.

"And we worked in an excellent spirit with our partners in West Africa to produce a good approach to open markets for cotton, ambitiously and expeditiously, within the agricultural negotiations," said Mr. Zoellick. "But, the text also recognizes the unique development needs of these economies, and the United States is proud to already assist them with innovative programs to combine aid and trade."

Chief negotiators at the World Trade Organization say they hope they will be able to conclude the round of trade talks by December 2005, when the next ministerial takes place in Hong Kong.

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