Paris talks put Doha trade agreement back on track

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The Independent Online

Global trade talks are back on track, leading members of the World Trade Organization said yesterday, after the United States, Europe and key developing countries bridged some of their differences at a series of meetings in Paris.

Global trade talks are back on track, leading members of the World Trade Organization said yesterday, after the United States, Europe and key developing countries bridged some of their differences at a series of meetings in Paris.

The US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said he was optimistic a deal could be reached by July to relaunch the stalled Doha round of trade talks aimed at slashing subsidies, import tariffs and other barriers to global commerce.

The so-called G20 group of developing nations agreed yesterday to team up with Australia, Canada and the rest of the 17-member Cairns group of agricultural exporters to draft proposals for cuts in farm produce import tariffs - the outstanding obstacle to a new WTO deal - by early June. "We've come closer than we've ever done before in this organisation to dealing with export subsidies - we cannot lose this opportunity," Australia's Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.

The G20 had earlier rejected an EU/US proposal on how agricultural tariff cuts should be calculated, saying it allowed rich countries too much leeway for high tariffs. "The way it was written, it was a licence to do nothing," Brazil's foreign minister Celso Amorim said.

Global trade relations were chilled by the collapse last September of WTO talks in Cancun, Mexico. But they began to thaw this week after the EU agreed in principle to scrap export subsidies on farm produce - blamed for hurting producers in poor countries - and dropped controversial demands for new global rules on investment.

The US has already signalled readiness to scrap its own export subsidies, but both Washington and Brussels have stressed the concessions are conditional on poorer countries agreeing to open their own markets.

Nevertheless, efforts to forge a united front in the G20 could meet strong resistance. The US also, for all its tariff-slashing rhetoric, is also reluctant to touch duties protecting its cotton producers. The EU, meanwhile, has to balance the political sensitivities of its 25 members including France - although individual states cannot veto decisions by the bloc's trade commissioner, Pascal Lamy. "On this sort of issue the EU doesn't work with unanimity, thank God," M. Lamy said yesterday.

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