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Mahamad Rodzi Abdul Ghani





US to Push for Global End of Farm Supports At WTO Ministerial

12/12/05  Kathryn McConnell Washington, DC ( AllAfrica.com)  -- The United States will continue to pursue an ambitious effort to end within the World Trade Organization (WTO) a system of export subsidies supported by countries that produce such agricultural products as cotton, cocoa, palm oil and bananas, says Deputy U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Karan Bhatia.

In challenging trade-negotiating countries to eliminate subsidies, Bhatia said the United States is "happy to meet ambition with ambition."

Speaking at a December 12 conference on cotton in Hong Kong, Bhatia said the United States also wants to continue to push forward a strong approach to advancing international market access, especially for African agricultural producers.

The conference, organized by a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), was focused on the five countries in West Africa (C5) that produce 3 percent of the world's cotton. The five countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal.

The conference preceded a ministerial meeting of the WTO scheduled to take place in Hong Kong December 13-18. (See WTO Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting.)

The United States is proposing to the WTO a three-tiered plan to open agricultural trade for all countries:

Opening access to markets,

Eliminating subsidies, and

Cutting back and eventually eliminating domestic supports.

The plan is "one of the most significant proposals to be put forward for agricultural reform in the history of global trade negotiations," Bhatia said.

A "modest" market access proposition would be more difficult than one with more strength to gain approval from national legislature bodies, Bhatia said.

The U.S. proposal for helping developing countries -- in Africa and in other areas -- is an issue the United States will focus on in the negotiations in Hong Kong, said U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, briefing reporters December 12 in Hong Kong.

Lowering global trade barriers "is only for the betterment of development" and will serve to strengthen the economies of poor countries, he said.

The United States is helping West African cotton producers to improve their methods of growing, distributing and marketing their product. For instance, the United States is supporting a multi-year African Global Competitiveness Initiative that is creating trading hubs within the African continent to improve the export performance of agricultural products, Bhatia said. (See Trade and Economic Development.)

Bhatia also said investments in strengthening infrastructures would help poor countries access foreign markets.

He noted that a developing country official at the conference spoke of the need for better roads, so agricultural products could be transported more quickly to seaports and be less vulnerable to weather conditions.

Bhatia said that in the past year the Bush administration has proposed the elimination of a cotton support program worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

He said the United States also has reformed its programs that encouraged U.S. cotton exports in order to reduce their trade-distorting effects.

Transcripts of Bhatia's opening and closing remarks at the conference are available on the USTR Web site. Portman's remarks are also available on the USTR web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)