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Trade Ministers Hold Informal Talks in Egypt - 2003-06-21

Trade ministers from 29 countries are meeting in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik for informal talks aimed at resolving problems facing the World Trade Organization ahead of a WTO meeting in Mexico in September.

The trade ministers are concentrating on agriculture subsidies policies, hoping to end the rift in the so-called Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar in November 2001. It aims at a more equitable approach to international trade for developing countries.

But the nations which launched the round have run into disputes over farm exports, cheap medicines and and rules on investment, as they seek to honor the pledge to tear down trade barriers by 2004.

Negotiations appear to be deadlocked for a reduction in farm subsidies paid out by the European Union. WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi warned that, unless the European subsidy question is resolved, it will cast doubt on the rest of the Doha Round ever succeeding.

Major farm exporters, such as Australia and Canada, as well as developing countries like Egypt and Brazil, want massive cuts in the European Union's $50 billion farm subsidy program, which developing nations say distorts world trade and makes it impossible for their own farmers to compete.

The European Union insists that many of its subsidies are necessary to ensure animal welfare, consumer safety and protection of the environment and rural communities.

Also being discussed at Sharm el Sheik are ways of ensuring that developing nations can afford patented drugs to treat diseases such as HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis.

Poor countries want an exception to the World Trade Organization's intellectual property regulations they say would allow them to fight such epidemics by importing generic drugs, rather than having to buy expensive medications produced by Western pharmaceutical giants.