Developing countries say farming central to WTO deal

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GENEVA, Nov 15 (Reuters) Opening up rich countries' farm markets is crucial for a deal on world trade, and the Doha round of trade talks will not succeed without agreement on agriculture, developing countries said today.

Ministers and senior officials representing nearly 100 developing countries reiterated at meetings called by Brazil at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that development was at the heart of the agenda of the Doha round, launched six years ago.

Farming is central to development, they said.

''Most of the world's farmers live in developing countries.

They continue to be burdened by gigantic trade-distorting subsidies and prohibitive market access barriers in developed countries,'' a joint statement said.

''Addressing these distortions effectively is the most important unfinished task in the WTO.'' The developing countries highlighted the problem of cotton, where US subsidies are squeezing poor African farmers out of the market, as a key issue.

The main elements in a WTO deal are likely to involve the United States cutting farm subsidies and the European Union reducing agricultural tariffs, in return for poor countries opening up their markets for industrial goods.

But rich countries are waiting to hear whether developing nations will accept proposals by a WTO mediator on cutting industry tariffs before specifying what they will do in agriculture.

As a result, the negotiations are now imbalanced, with poor countries facing specific demands on manufactures but unclear what they will get in return in farming, the developing countries said.

The poor countries also expressed frustration at the slow pace of the negotiations, with the deadline for agreeing the outlines of a deal repeatedly put back, most recently from October, to the middle of this month, to late November or early December or even the beginning of next year.

And they also expressed concern that the expiry of the US president's fast-track trade negotiating authority was creating uncertainty as the talks approached their final stage.

Trade promotion authority allows the administration to present a trade deal to Congress for approval or rejection as a whole without any changes.

The fast-track legislation expired on June 30, leaving many US partners unwilling to put all their cards on the table on talks in case Congress comes back with more demands.


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