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Manufacturers, Exporters, Wholesalers - Global trade starts here.

Agriculture Discussions Open WTO Meeting

Delegates representing the developing countries on Tuesday put forward proposals for the opening up of international agricultural trade on the opening day of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Informal Ministerial Meeting.

Ministers from 30 of the 148 WTO members took part in discussions yesterday in Dalian, a port city in northeast China's Liaoning Province.

The meeting opened with a gathering of the G20 (Group of 20 developing countries) that is working to persuade richer WTO members to grant freer access to their markets.

"Agriculture is the area with the greatest distortions maintained by developed countries and where developing countries enjoy sizeable comparative advantages. The meaningful results in agriculture are essential to lead the Doha Round to a success," according to a G20 statement.

The G20 proposed a special deal for developing economies to ease their entry into overseas agricultural markets, and reiterated that the concerns of the economies new to the WTO must be effectively addressed.

The group also presented a proposal at the meeting highlighting the three pillars of agricultural negotiations: domestic support, export competition and market access.

The US, the EU and Japan have all cautiously welcomed the G20 proposals, calling them a "good starting point" for later negotiations.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said she welcomes the G20 initiative.

"The EU is ready to move away from its initial position on market access to seek the middle ground between that position and the new G20 proposal," Boel said.

US Trade Representative Rob Portman said: "It (the G20 proposal) does provide a formula that we believe is a basis upon which we can now find a middle ground to move forward.... We are prepared to make a move to the middle."

Pakistani Minister of Commerce Humayun Akhtar Khan told China Daily that he had found the negotiations "encouraging."

But WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi expressed concern over the negotiation process, saying there is little time for agreement to be reached.

He urged for negotiations to be more specific, and said WTO members should hold positions that allow them to move toward consensus rather than pulling them apart.

"I'm trying to do my best to encourage people to move with urgency in the next couple of days. We have days, not weeks," Panitchpakdi said.

China's Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai said some initial agreements have been reached on some points, such as market access.

Bo added that this meeting in Dalian is an opportunity for members to fully exchange their views, and set the stage for a successful Sixth WTO Ministerial Meeting to be held in Hong Kong at the end of the year.

(China Daily July 13, 2005)

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