Bush works phones in quest of WTO deal

By Reuters

WASHINGTON/CANCUN, Mexico, September 8, 2003, Cropchoice -- (Reuters): President Bush reached out to developing world leaders on Monday to break a deadlock on agriculture that has blocked progress in world trade talks, a White House spokesman said.

As top trade officials gathered for a World Trade Organization meeting in the Mexican resort of Cancun, Bush worked the phones, calling Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, South African President Thabo Mbeki and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

``The purpose of all these calls was to talk about the importance of the World Trade Organization ministerial in Cancun. The president noted that an ambitious, successful outcome in Cancun, especially in agriculture, would benefit all countries,'' White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters during a trip by Bush to Nashville.

WTO members have missed almost every deadline they set for themselves when they launched talks on a global trade deal 22 months ago in Doha, Qatar.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said on Monday he expects no major breakthrough at the Sept. 10-14 trade talks even as senior ministers tried to find common ground on farm subsides seen as a major stumbling block to a deal.

``It would be hazardous for anybody to predict that Cancun is going to be a breakthrough. It is our hope that there will be some progress,'' he told reporters in Washington.

The five-day trade meeting opens on Wednesday but top trade officials from the United States, the European Union and other countries kicked off bilateral talks on Monday morning.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick met separately with South African Trade Minister Alec Erwin, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, Indian Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley to see where countries could narrow their differences.

Cut subsidies

Both the European Union and the United States face pressure to cut tens of billions of dollars in subsidies to their farmers and open up their agricultural markets. Without progress on agriculture, it will be difficult to narrow major differences in other key areas like industrial tariffs and investment rules.

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile, who was scheduled to meet with Zoellick late on Monday, said agricultural exporters would not accept any weakening of the commitment countries made in Doha to aggressively reduce domestic farm subsidies and tariffs and move toward eliminating export subsidies.

Officials hope the target for reaching a global trade deal by the end of 2004 can still be achieved if countries can agree on general principles for reforming farm trade -- the issue of greatest importance for most of the WTO's 146 members.

U.S. negotiators want developing countries to lower their own agricultural tariffs and the EU to agree to a formula that would harmonize the level of farm spending across the Atlantic by requiring Brussels to make deeper cuts.

As its price for farm trade reform, the EU wants countries to agree to launch negotiations aimed at establishing new international rules in four areas -- investment, competition policy, customs facilitation and government procurement.

India and many African countries strongly oppose talks on investment and competition. They fear the negotiations could lead to commitments that they would find difficult to implement and then be exposed to legal challenges at the WTO.

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