CBI says farm lobby blocking WTO deal

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Business leaders must throw their weight behind the push for a deal to break the deadlock over world trade talks at a key summit next month, the president of the CBI said yesterday.

John Sunderland used his opening address to launch an attack on the "irrelevant" farm lobby for blocking negotiations.

"We are witnessing again the historic struggle between free trade and protectionism - and history sadly repeating itself - with landed interests once again at the forefront of protection," he said. Agricultural interests in the US and Europe made up less than 2 per cent of their GDP and employed a similar proportion of the workforce. "But their political power is many times greater," he said.

"Why are some political leaders so frightened of this increasingly irrelevant minority whose subsidies we all pay for? The voice of business should be heard more clearly in support of free trade."

Ministers from the 148 members of the World Trade Organisation meet for a five-day summit in Hong Kong amid fading hopes that they will be able to get even the outline of a deal on the table. The current round of talks have ground to halt over demands by developing countries for substantial cuts in rich nations' support for their farmers.