US farm leader criticizes "free riders" in WTO talks

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CHANTILLY, Va., Nov 27 (Reuters) A long-awaited world trade deal will remain out of reach until developing countries agree to open their markets to more US farm goods, the head of the largest US farm organisation said.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the talks are stuck because many developing countries want the United States to reduce its farm subsidies without cutting their tariffs in return.

The world trade talks, launched six years ago in the capital city of Qatar, are officially known as the Doha Development Agenda because of their emphasis on using trade reform to help lift countries out of poverty.

''But too many developing countries decided 'Oh, this is a free ride for us. We're going to get something and we're not going to have to give up anything in return.' That's problem number one'' with the negotiations, Stallman said in a speech yesterday to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

The United States is under pressure from developing countries like Brazil and India in the World Trade Organization talks to cap its annual spending on trade-distorting farm subsidies at 13 billion dollar.

Washington spent 18.9 billion dollar on those programs in 2005, although the exact level varies from year to year.

''Unfortunately some countries that want us to get down to a cap of 13 billion dollar ... haven't been willing to lower tariffs sufficiently to offset that from an economic perspective,'' Stallman told reporters after the speech.

''We have to secure a deal that balances whatever we give up in our domestic supports under our farm program in return for increased market access,'' Stallman said.

The chairman of the World Trade Organization's agricultural negotiating group is expected to release a new draft text soon that could become the basis for final negotiations. Countries also are trying to reach accords on opening industrial goods and services market to more trade around the world.

Although US President George W Bush has said he wants to reach a deal before leaving office, Stallman said he was reasonably sure the White House would not strike a bargain that the American Farm Bureau cannot support.

''The raw political reality is that there will not be a trade agreement pass the US Congress unless it has the support of agriculture,'' Stallman told reporters.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim met US Trade Representative Susan Schwab in Washington yesterday and said she thought the US Congress could approve the agreement before Bush ends his term in January 2009.

He said they did not ''negotiate'' or discuss numbers, adding that he believed a new ministerial meeting on the Doha round would convene in February, which could lead to a final agreement in the following two or three months.

Reuters AK VP0555

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