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23. April 2007

New WTO push to cut customs tariffs

GENEVA: WTO member states decided yesterday to intensify talks on lowering customs tariffs despite the absence of agreement between the four key players, the United States, the European Union, India and Brazil, known as the G4.

"The multilateral process can no longer be made to wait for the contribution of smaller groups," said WTO director general Pascal Lamy.

The 150 member states charged the heads of working committees on agriculture, services and non-agricultural market access to quickly prepare compromise texts without waiting for any breakthrough in G4 talks.

Ministers from the G4 met in New Delhi last week but failed to reach a deal on agriculture, which has stymied global trade talks since the Doha round was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001.

Within the G4, the US and the EU have engaged in bitter arguments over trade in agricultural goods, with Brussels demanding more reductions in US farm subsidies and Washington insisting that proposed European tariff cuts do not go far enough.

At the New Delhi meeting, the ministers agreed only to aim for a compromise by mid-June.

Meanwhile, the head of the agriculture working group, Crawford Falconer, plans to issue a "challenges paper" to provoke movement among member states on tariffs and subsidies ahead of the group's next meeting on May 4, trade sources said.

Lamy told yesterday's meeting that a deal is still "doable" but all players need to redouble their efforts to secure a positive outcome.

"This is a big task. In my view, it is doable... but it will only be possible if you all put every effort into making the multilateral process the pathway to success," he said.

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