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Richer nations 'must act'
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China's commerce minister has urged rich countries to cut subsidies on agriculture amid soaring food prices, saying that the current situation has placed them in a better position to act.

Agriculture is the core issue at the ongoing Doha Round of trade negotiations, said Commerce Minister Chen Deming. "As prices of agricultural products skyrocket worldwide, main WTO members are able and should feel obliged to cut trade-distorting subsidies by a large scale," Chen said in a statement posted on the commerce ministry's website.

Trade and agricultural ministers from 35 major WTO members have gathered in Geneva this week with the aim of striking a deal that could liberalize global trade in agriculture and non-agricultural market access, known as NAMA.

The immediate task of the negotiation this week is to establish the so-called modalities of agriculture and NAMA, which refer to the method and formulas of tariff and subsidy cuts.

In his speech, Chen also emphasized that China was committed to the success of the negotiations.

"We should work together with a concerted mind, collective wisdom and maximum courage to pave a solid ground for the successful conclusion of the negotiations," Xinhua quoted Chen as saying.

A successful conclusion of the Doha Round "will play a pivotal role in lifting the global economy out of current difficulties, safeguarding a fair trading environment and promoting the economic development of WTO members, especially the developing members," he said.

Rich and poor countries have clashed repeatedly in the WTO talks, which started in the Qatar capital in 2001. Developing countries ask for lower agricultural tariffs and subsidies in richer countries, while developed nations seek larger access in emerging economies for their industrial goods.

WTO mediators on agriculture and NAMA negotiations issued revised compromise proposals or texts on the two issues earlier this month. Negotiations for the rest of the week will be based on the two proposals.

(China Daily July 24, 2008)

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