Economists in plea to open up food markets

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The Independent Online

About 100 professional economists have called on rich countries to kick-start the stalled world trade talks by opening up their food markets.

In a letter to The Independent, they say any delay in a deal to cut agricultural tariffs and subsidies would condemn poor countries to a "cycle of poverty".

The plea comes as negotiators from the 149 members of the World Trade Organisation meet today at its Geneva HQ for a meeting of its General Council.

In the letter they say: "We urge heads of government to agree on mutually advantageous policy reforms that lead to less-protected and less-subsidised agricultural and food trade.

"Further delay condemns many to a continuing cycle of poverty, denying them the opportunities for further development and economic growth. Countries have immense responsibilities for the external effects of their domestic policies."

The letter was drafted by David Harvey, a professor at the University of Newcastle, along with Professors Secondo Tarditi of Siena University and Ulrich Koester of the University of Kiel in Germany. It was signed by economists from the US, Europe, Australia and Russia.

The council will receive an update on the state of talks from Pascal Lamy, the WTO director general. It is likely to be a gloomy address as there have been no talks since July when a meeting of the "Big Six" - the US, EU, Japan, Brazil, Australia and India - aimed at providing a fresh start to the talks ended in acrimony.

Meanwhile, the EU appears intent on pursuing bilateral trade deals in face of criticism that this shows its commitment to a multilateral deal is weakening.