Britain sceptical over Bush's pledge to revise agricultural subsidies

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair has warned that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks in Hong Kong could end in failure and promised to wage "a monumental struggle" to prevent their collapse. The Prime Minister made a coded criticism of President George Bush, who told the UN summit on Wednesday that the US was "ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to the free flow of goods and services, as long as other nations do the same".

Mr Blair told a summit press conference yesterday: "Everybody around the world is trying to call each other's bluff on trade. People say 'we will get rid of our tariffs and subsidies if you get rid of yours'. We need to start calling those bluffs and make sure people understand that if we end up with failure in December, that will echo around the world."

Britain will make a new push to persuade France to accept sweeping reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy on the ground that this would help Africa by boosting the prospects of success in the trade talks. The issue will be discussed at a special summit of EU leaders in Britain next month.

Although British officials insisted Mr Blair's remarks were aimed at all countries and not America, there is scepticism in the British Government that President Bush will live up to his trade pledge.Peter Mandelson, Europe's trade commissioner, said many critics would take the view that the US President was making "lavish promises" and "playing to the gallery".

Although he welcomed President Bush's comments on trade, he warned that American farmers and their political allies were unlikely to accept such a move. He told BBC Radio 4: "It is easy to make these grandiose commitments ... And there will be very, very many American farmers who will be waking up to hear his words and choking on their cornflakes."

Before returning to London last night, Mr Blair attended the launch of a new drive to tackle global problems by Bill Clinton, the former US President. The first Clinton Global Initiative conference, which attracted about 50 world leaders, discussed plans to address poverty, religious strife, governance and climate change.