EU Letter Tries to Jump-Start WTO Talks; Offers Concessions in Export Subsidies, Investor Rights, Trade Rules

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Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The European Union yesterday offered key concessions to spur World Trade Organization talks, a move quickly welcomed by the Bush administration.

The 25-nation body offered to eliminate export subsidies on farm goods, to trim earlier demands that all WTO members sign on to new rules that guarantee investor rights and to carve out exemptions from trade rules for the world's poorest countries.

"On agriculture, we believe that we have a historical opportunity for a breakthrough," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler said in a letter to the WTO's 147 members.

Agriculture is at the heart of WTO talks started in 2001. The ongoing negotiations are meant to create new rules by the end of this year that would boost world economies by lowering trade barriers.

An agreement that significantly lowers tariffs and reduces subsidies would boost world economies by $520 billion and lift some 144 million out of poverty, according to the World Bank.

But talks last year in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed when rich and poor nations fought to a standstill on agriculture subsidies, and rules to protect multinational corporations.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick in January wrote the WTO's members urging a renewed commitment to the talks and outlining steps that would break the impasse. Yesterday he welcomed the EU letter.

"I hope this will provide a shot in the arm to the overall negotiations," he said.

Developing nations, led by Brazil, India and China, have fought hardest for an end to subsidies that wealthier countries pay farmers to produce and sell goods. The subsidies can spur production and lower world prices, making it harder for unsubsidized farmers to earn a living. …