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WTO draft sets deadline to end subsidies
(AP)
Updated: 2005-12-18 17:14

HONG KONG - WTO negotiators reached a breakthrough on the most contentious issue of the six-day talks, agreeing that wealthy countries would eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013, paving the way for a broader agreement to cut trade barriers across various sectors, according to a copy of the final draft agreement obtained by journalists.

The breakthrough, coming after all-night negotiations, appeared to save the World Trade Organization meeting from an embarrassing collapse provided the final draft is approved by all 149 member nations and territories who are meeting later Sunday.

The 2013 date was a key demand of the European Union, which held out against intense pressure from Brazil and other developing nations to phase out a significant proportion of its farm export subsidies by 2010. Developing nations say the government farm payments to promote exports undercuts the competitive advantage of poor farmers.

The revised text also sets April 30, 2006, as a new deadline to work out formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs and subsidies a key step toward forging a sweeping global free trade treaty by the end of next year.

The draft noted "the compelling urgency of seizing the moment and driving the process to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. We must maintain momentum. You don't close divergences by taking time off to have a cup of tea," it said.

"To meet this challenge and achieve this goal, we must act decisively and with real urgency," the text said.

The final draft also calls on wealthy nations to allow duty-free and quota-free privileges to at least 97 percent of products exported by the so-called least developed countries by 2008.

In addition, the draft retained an earlier proposal that rich countries to eliminate all export subsidies on cotton in 2006.

These measures were considered critical to the overall success of the current round of WTO talks that were launched four years ago in Doha, Qatar, particularly to address the concerns of developing nations.



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