A new global trade deal cannot be reached without developed nations cutting agricultural subsidies, delegates to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference said yesterday.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy stressed that the needs of developing nations, which account for two thirds of WTO members, must be addressed.
The conference will officially start today, and 5,800 delegates from 149 WTO member economies will engage in tough bargaining to work towards an eventual global treaty that would cut trade barriers.
The meeting aims to wrap up the Doha Round of negotiations, which started in Qatar's capital in 2001 and are meant to pay particular attention to poor nations' trade concerns.
Lamy said agricultural subsidies remain the most challenging task for the conference but European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson made it clear that progress was "not possible" unless poorer nations themselves offered to lower trade barriers to foreign goods and services.
Mandelson said that delegates should try to narrow differences so that an outline for a trade deal can be drawn up by the first quarter of next year.
Eager to show some sort of progress, the EU and other wealthy nations urged the WTO to approve a proposed package of trade measures for helping 32 of the poorest members.
The plan calls for extending tariff-free and quota-free access to the least-developed nations, many of them in Africa, which have per capita national income of less than US$750.
US Trade Representative Robert Portman said agricultural subsidies remained a key issue, and urged the EU to make more concessions.
US Agricultural Secretary Mike Johanns said the United States was open to proposals that help reach a successful conclusion to the conference, adding that his country was prepared to cut agricultural subsidies.
"We have indicated that we will stay engaged ... We believe we can do a lot of things, but the ambition has to be matched," he said.
Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim accused the wealthy industrialized nations of sacrificing the interests of 70 percent of the developing world subsistence farmers for the sake of a tiny segment of their own populations.
The chairman of the conference, Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology John Tsang, said he wants to build a platform in Hong Kong for the Doha Round to push for a final drive towards reaching a conclusion in 2006.
Tsang said ministers will be working almost around the clock, and they must give a clear direction on how to move forward after the conference to deal with all related issues by next spring.
About 3,200 media representatives have descended on the city and 2,167 representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) a record will also attend the meeting.
(China Daily December 13, 2005)