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European Trade Chief Aims To Fend Off Criticism At Global Talks

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Senior European trade officials are fighting back against accusations they are to blame for stalling a global trade deal.

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson put up a spirited defense against critics who accuse him of blocking a breakthrough by the World Trade Organization.

"We have made an offer which has been described by the Director-General of the WTO as serious and credible," said Peter Mandelson. "We expect equally serious and credible negotiating partners to sit down and discuss it with us."

Mr. Mandelson spoke on the first day of formal WTO talks here in Hong Kong.

Delegates from 149 member economies are meeting for what many view as a last chance to cement free trade goals set forth in Doha, Qatar, four-years ago.

European officials are facing repeated accusations that they have not opened their markets sufficiently to agricultural imports from less developed countries.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel says she finds that criticism "boring and disappointing," and says it does not reflect the real situation.

"We are, the European Union, by far the biggest importer of agricultural commodities from the least-developed countries," said Fischer Boel. "So I think we should like others to follow in our example."

Mr. Mandelson says rich nations should follow Europe's example of open market access to many of the world's least-developed countries, known as LDC's.

"To have real value added, a duty- and quota-free system should be extended from a certain date to all products from all countries," he said. "This is the real prize for LDC's in this conference."

European officials say they are not the only ones that need to make concessions. They say less-developed countries need to drop their own trade barriers to European manufactured goods and services.

They say the United States should end many of its agriculture subsidies, and change what they call "trade-distorting" policies on distributing surplus food as aid to the developing world.

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