U.S. and European Union trade officials yesterday welcomed a proposal by developing countries to cut farm tariffs, breathing life into...
DALIAN, China — U.S. and European Union trade officials yesterday welcomed a proposal by developing countries to cut farm tariffs, breathing life into the quest for an agreement ahead of a key World Trade Organization conference in December.
Officials from 30 nations meeting in Dalian this week are trying to lend new momentum to the Doha round of trade talks and tackle disagreements on how much governments should protect their farmers.
Final accords aren’t expected, although the sides hope to reach at least partial agreements ahead of new talks in Geneva at month’s end.
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman praised the initiative that was offered by the Group of 20 — poorer WTO members pressing Europe for access to its markets for farm goods — and backed by Australia and other big agricultural exporters.
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“I’m very encouraged by the attitude of the ministers,” Portman said. “There does seem to be a sense of urgency and a continued high level of ambition,” he said.
However, Portman said proposed tariff cuts should be even more aggressive. President Bush recently proposed the elimination of all farm subsidies within five years.
“We may not agree to it in the next 24 hours, but we have a framework,” said Portman.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel welcomed the G-20 proposal as a “good basis for further work to be done.”
The proposal calls for countries to be divided into five categories, or bands, within which different country’s tariffs would be cut along a single rate. That builds on a compromise agreement reached in May that broke a deadlock on agriculture tariffs and lifted a serious obstacle to a much-delayed global-trade deal.
Fisher Boel said the EU favored just three bands, with more flexibility in the levels of cuts. The EU, which heavily protects its farmers, would be in the top band, with Japan and the United States — which both heavily subsidize farmers — in the middle and all others in the lower band, she said.