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Quint Meeting Quibble Quite Uneventful
Agriculture ministers from five major farm trading economies failed to narrow the gap on agricultural tariffs and subsidies at their two-day meeting from Friday to Saturday in Nara in western Japan.

The ministers from Australia, Canada, Japan, the United States and the European Union (EU) agreed, however, to continue talks to lead the rest of the world toward farm policy reform, while moving ahead with their own efforts.

"There were some differences, but I think this meeting will help promote WTO farm negotiations with the participants deepening understanding of each other's views," Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tsutomu Takebe told reporters at the closure of the so-called "quint" farm ministerial meeting Saturday.

The "quint" ministers discussed how to proceed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) farm negotiations scheduled to set overall targets and rules for members' farm policy reforms by March next year as part of a three-year trade round launched last November in Doha with the deadline set for January 1, 2005.

But Takebe and EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Franz Fischler confirmed their opposition to US proposals on farm tariffs and subsidy cuts.

The United States proposed at the beginning of the meeting that the WTO farm trade talks should target cutting all tariffs to no more than 25 per cent, cap trade-distorting domestic subsidies at 5 per cent of farm output and scrap export subsidies over a five-year period.

Takebe said the proposals fail to address non-trade concerns, require more reform from importers than exporters and lack a commitment to slash export credits.

Fischler branded the proposals as unbalanced. "If you read these proposals, we are seeing that others should move more compared with movement on the US side. This is not a very good basis to find a common compromise in the negotiations."

US Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman defended the proposals, saying they are intended "to move the negotiations forward by outlining specific goals."

"We would hope that countries will consider very very carefully the kind of approach that we have set up in our proposals," Veneman said, adding that Washington's farm policy has received support from Australia, New Zealand and other farm- exporting countries.

Veneman said the United States is ready to reform its export credit system. "We've specifically stated that we are willing to negotiate specific reforms on export credits."

Australian Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Warren Truss generally supported the US proposals, describing them as "constructive," but added export credits should be abolished.

Japan and the EU are calling for nontrade considerations in an attempt to maintain some protection for their farmers, while the United States, Australia and Canada are all keen to open up the world's farm markets to expand their exports.

Japan, meanwhile, agreed with the EU and Australia to oppose a new US farm law designed to increase subsidies to US farmers. Canada has also expressed concerns.

Australia, which plans to host next year's "quint" meeting, is very critical of the US law, saying it would affect its export competitiveness.

(Xinhua News Agency July 29, 2002)

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