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Trade Ministers Optimistic More Countries Will Open Markets - 2004-05-14

Trade ministers from industrialized countries expressed guarded optimism Friday that long-stalled global trade talks are finally moving forward.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick echoed the views of several ministers, suggesting that the trade talks started moving again, after grinding to a halt over deep differences on cuts in agricultural subsidies. Mr. Zoellick said the countries were coming closer to a common ground. He said further opening of the world's market, which is the goal of the talks, would give a boost to the world economy.

?I believe this is a moment of strategic economic opportunity,? he said. ?The world economy is showing good signs of energy and life and if we can use this trade negotiation effectively, we can deepen that expansion. We can broaden it, and make sure it supports the development agenda.?

Mr. Zoellick's optimism was shared by European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who said he believed the stalled World Trade Organization (WTO) talks were, as he put it, smoking again (moving).

The current WTO discussions stalled last September, during a ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, largely over disagreements among its 147 members on government aid to farmers in rich nations, but earlier this week, the European Union proposed to eliminate, under some conditions, farm subsidies, if other rich countries, including the United States, did the same. Washington had made a similar proposal earlier.

Mr. Lamy expressed confidence in Paris that half of the work on this round of trade talks could be finished by the July deadline. After that, trade experts say, negotiations are likely to slow down because of the November elections in the United States.

Developing countries, in particular, have sharply criticized agricultural subsidies that richer nations give to their farmers. They argue such benefits have devastating consequences for their agriculture.

Mr. Zoellick also said it was important to ensure that food aid to poor countries was used for humanitarian purposes, and not for commercial ones. That means, he said, richer countries should not be dumping cheap farm produce on the poor countries in the disguise of food aid.