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Trade Ministers Seek Better Access to Industrial Nations

Trade and Agriculture Ministers from 18 countries are meeting in Uruguay to develop a strategy for gaining better access for their agricultural exports into industrial nations. Some of the countries are taking a hardline in demanding access for their farm products.

Representatives of the 18-member "Group of Cairns" are meeting in the Uruguayan seaside resort of Punta del Este, to discuss ways they can press countries such as the United States to open up their markets to agricultural products.

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes says the issue will be a top priority at the next round of world trade talks scheduled for later this year in Qatar. Speaking to reporters Monday, Mr. Pratini de Moraes warned there will be little progress at those talks unless the United States, the European Union and others agree to grant more access to foreign agricultural products.

Mr. Pratini de Moraes said the upcoming talks will be a waste of time if, what he called, the "strong economies" simply call for more open markets in developing nations, while refusing to do the same for agriculture.

The official said his views are shared by Brazil's three partners in the South American trade bloc, Mercosur.

The Mercosur nations - along with several other Latin American countries - belong to the 18-member Group of Cairns, which is pressing for an end to agricultural trade barriers. Other members of the group include Canada, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Thailand.

Top U.S. officials including Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick - are in Punta del Este to attend the annual Group of Cairns meeting. The U.S. delegation also plans to hold talks with the Mercosur members on a possible free trade agreement.

The Group of Cairns conference is scheduled to end on Wednesday.