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WTO chief calls for flexibility

Staff Writer

THE director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has urged member states to show flexibility and determination ahead of the July deadline for the eradication of subsidies on agricu

ltural products worldwide.

WTO boss Supachai Panitchpakdi’s comments come in the wake of a victory for developing nations last week when the international trading body ruled in favour of a developing nation against the United States government $1,5 billion subsidies on cotton farmers illegal.

Brazil had appealed to the WTO against the US’s continued assistance towards its cotton farmers. The ruling could effectively mean the end of the continued subsidies by developed countries to their farmers.

Panitchpakdi said if no agreement was reached by July this could be another lost opportunity.

“There is much to be gained or lost in the agriculture negotiations,” he said. “If we can reach an agreement on a framework by July, we have a foundation for future work which will lead to conclusion of the negotiations. Without that foundation we face drifting and another lost opportunity.”

The WTO has set the July target for having reached an agreement on the removal of agricultural subsidies.

However, some trade experts have warned that because elections across the European Union block and for those in the US which would be held later in the year there is minimal prospects of the progress of discussions before the deadline.

Failure to have a common position ultimately led to the collapse of last year’s ministerial meeting.

Developing and developed countries in September 2003 failed to agree on the frameworks and modalities on agriculture and non-agricultural market access. The countries also failed to agree on issues pertaining to cotton and Singapore issues.

Singapore issues relate to investment, trade facilitation and government procurement which again also contributed to the collapse of talks last year.

Panitchpakdi said the issues, which led to the collapse of the Cancun meeting were a major focus for last year and they remain central in unlocking progress in other areas of the work programme.

The next WTO ministerial meeting is set to be held next year in Hong Kong, but unless progress is made on the sticky agricultural issue the meeting risks failing to take off the ground.

“Achieving these relatively modest advances this summer will help put the negotiations as a whole back on track,” he said. “Failure to do so will certainly mean that 2004 is a wasted year and perhaps a good part of 2005 as well.”

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