Hewitt wants to see farm subsidies axed by 2010

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The Independent Online

Europe must abolish all farm subsidies within six years to avoid missing a "window of opportunity" to relaunch the stalled global trade talks, Patricia Hewitt said yesterday.

Europe must abolish all farm subsidies within six years to avoid missing a "window of opportunity" to relaunch the stalled global trade talks, Patricia Hewitt said yesterday.

The call by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for a final deadline goes further than the recent offer by the European Union to put an end to all export subsidies on the table.

Ms Hewitt praised Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade commissioner, and Franz Fischler, his farming counterpart, but added: "We believe the EU can and should go further. The EU should agree to further significant agricultural reform so that border protection is substantially reduced and export subsidies are no longer an issue for world trade by 2010."

DTI sources said the Government supported fully the Commission's initiative but the call for specific deadline for an end to the annual €50bn (£34bn) subsidy package could trigger a row in Brussels.

The current round of talks to secure a new trade deal were launched in Qatar in 2001 but negotiations collapsed at a summit in Mexico last autumn, over issues ranging from farm subsidies to new rules of investment.

Trade ministers from the 147 member countries have until the end of July to draw up a blueprint to be used as a launchpad for a new session of talks.

In an interview with The Independent, Ms Hewitt said: "We have got a window of opportunity to get the framework agreed. Everybody in the WTO understands that if we want to agree a framework this year we have to agree it by the end of July especially with the changeover [of commissioners] at the European Commission and the intensity of the US elections."

Ms Hewitt said she was optimistic the talks could be put back on track. "This is do-able and there's a political will among developing countries to move this forward. There has been a very positive reaction to the [EU] initiative."

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