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WTO Inches Closer to Global Trade Deal - 2004-07-30

Delegates from 147 countries are putting the final touches on a proposed new accord aimed at salvaging the multilateral trading system. The World Trade Organization says it hopes the new deal will persuade countries to restart the so-called Doha Development Round of free trade talks. The talks collapsed last year when WTO members failed to reach agreement at a ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

The new blueprint is only 20 pages long, but it is packed with compromise solutions on a range of trading issues. If accepted by WTO's 147 members, this could put the failed global trade talks back on track.

In presenting the agreement, WTO Chief Supachai Panitchpakdi was upbeat, and said prospects for a trade accord were very high.

Zambian Ambassador Love Mtesa says he thinks there is a possibility for compromise. But, he adds, the document should have been issued earlier so countries would have more time to go over it.

"So, we have an opportunity to study the document, and in most cases, refer some issues to our respective capitals, so we can get appropriate instructions," he notes.

Five major agricultural producers - the United States, the European Union, Brazil, India and Australia - worked in secret for the past few days on the set of new proposals. The text they came up with tries to find a balance between rich countries that want to continue subsidizing their farmers and poor countries that want these subsidies removed.

WTO Spokesman Keith Rockwell says what is on the table now is an improvement over the previous text. He calls it a step in the right direction and says a deal is possible.

"If we do succeed, what you are going to see is certainly some very significant progress with respect to and some very specific results in export competition," he adds. "You are going to see something on domestic support for agriculture, where you will have as a down payment a reduction for the first year of 20 percent, which would be quite significant. ? And then, you would be able to sharpen the focus in agriculture."

But not everyone is happy with the accord. Hannah Crabtree is a press officer for Action Aid, a private group that works with African farmers. She says there are no concrete proposals for getting rid of the subsidies rich countries pay their cotton farmers, making it impossible for African cotton producers to compete.

"What African farmers need is the immediate elimination of cotton subsidies that are given to U.S. farmers and that are having a detrimental effect on the lives of these cotton farmers in Africa. Now, we are saying that these subsidies need to end now," she says.

The United States subsidizes its 25,000 cotton producers by nearly $4 billion a year.

However, trade representative from Burkina Faso, Moussa Nebie, calls the compromise reached in the text on cotton satisfactory.

But Mr. Nebie says a lot of work still needs to be done. He says African cotton producing countries appreciate the efforts that were made to find a solution.

The trade representatives are expected to work throughout the night to conclude a final draft agreement. If all 147 members sign on to the text, it will be the basis for negotiations when the global trade round resumes.