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Australian Trade Meeting Urges Resumption of Stalled WTO Talks

Key agriculture exporting nations meeting in the Australian city of Cairns have urged the United States and Europe to make further cuts to protection given to their farmers. Trade officials at the meeting criticized developed countries with high tariffs and farm subsidies for the collapse of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks that aim to liberalize global trade.

The 18 members of the Cairns group of nations have been meeting in northern Australia to look at ways to break the impasse in the World Trade Organization negotiations.

In a final communique' issued after three days of deliberations, delegates said they were "deeply disappointed" that the WTO talks on free trade were suspended in July.

The Cairns group represents a quarter of the world's trade in farm goods. It had a blunt message to its powerful trading partners.

Its statement urged the European Union, the United States and other industrialized countries, such as Japan, to "take the necessary steps to resume negotiations no later than November."

Disputes over how much to cut tariffs and subsidies for farmers were among the main issues that caused the WTO to suspend the Doha round of talks earlier this year.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard is confident a deal will eventually be struck.

"It is important that the Cairns group continues to argue very strongly for trade liberalization," said Mr. Howard. "Things do not look good at the moment with the WTO round - the Doha round - but we must not be deterred, and if we persist I remain optimistic that we can ultimately achieve a breakthrough."

Australia had hoped the Cairns meeting would rekindle the WTO negotiations but officials conceded it had not done so.

U.S. and EU trade officials attended the gathering, but did not offer specific compromises on tariffs and subsidies.

At meetings earlier this week, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund warned that the collapse of the Doha round of talks would undermine global growth. The round aims to increase world trade in a way that expands trade benefits to the world's poorest countries and allows them to expand their economies.

The Cairns group includes Chile, Malaysia, and New Zealand. The governments of the 18 member states provide little in the way of subsidies or market protections for their farmers. The group was formed 20 years ago to press for the removal of global trade barriers.