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WTO approves plan to end farm export subsidies

(Saturday July 31, 2004 -- CropChoice news) -- NAOMI KOPPEL, Associated Press:
GENEVA - World Trade Organization (news - web sites) members approved a plan Sunday to end export subsidies on farm products and cut import duties across the world, a key step toward a comprehensive global accord that has been discussed since 2001, trade officials said.

The deal was approved by a consensus of the 147-nation body shortly after midnight, opening the way for full negotiations to start in September.

"Developed countries have recognized that agricultural trade with a heavy subsidy component is not free trade," Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said.

But Nath said the United States, European Union (news - web sites) and other developed countries also will benefit by removing heavy agricultural subsidies from their budgets.

"It is incredibly important for Canada and for the world," Canadian Trade Minister Jim Peterson said. "We have a historic opportunity to get rid of agricultural subsidies and open up the world, particularly the developing world."

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the framework was "a good deal for everybody."

"It's a good deal for trade liberalization. It is also a good deal for social justice ... with the elimination of subsidies," Amorim said.

The approval followed a breakthrough earlier Saturday when some 20 key countries approved a document setting out the framework for a legally binding treaty, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said.

The document commits nations to lowering import duties and reducing government support in the three major areas of international trade industrial goods, agriculture and service industries such as telecommunications and banking.

The deal will set back in motion the long-stalled "round" of trade liberalization treaty talks launched by WTO members in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, but delayed by the collapse of the body's ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last year.