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IN THE NEWS - September 20, 2003: World Trade Talks - 2003-09-19

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In the News.

Countries of the World Trade Organization failed to reach agreement early this week after five days of talks in Cancun, Mexico. Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez halted the talks on Sunday after some delegates walked out. The delegates said wealthy countries did not make enough compromises to help poor nations.

The one-hundred-forty-six members of the World Trade Organization began a new series of talks two years ago in Doha, Qatar. They called for an agreement by two-thousand-five to reduce trade barriers. The goal is to increase development in poorer nations.

The United States and other wealthy nations say free trade has created jobs and wealth around the world. They say fewer trade barriers would increase that success. But developing nations say world trade rules help only major industrial nations and harm others.

The meeting in Cancun included an alliance of developing countries led by Brazil, China and India. They called themselves the Group of Twenty-two. They came together to demand major compromises.

The talks covered several issues. The biggest dispute is about aid to farmers. The European Union, the United States and others provide about three-thousand-million dollars a year to support farm exports.

Developing nations want deep cuts in this farm aid. They say it forces them to lower their prices. They say the current situation makes it difficult for their farmers to compete in the world economy.

But the W-T-O members could not agree whether to begin new talks on rules for foreign investment and competition. The E-U and Japan wanted to discuss these issues. But several developing countries refused. They said they must deal with these issues themselves, and not as part of the W-T-O negotiations. The European Union had made these issues a condition for cuts in its farm aid.

American trade officials in Cancun had hoped the Europeans would accept proposals to set a date to end farm aid. The E-U has offered to work to reduce the aid, but not to end it completely.

American Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the United States was prepared to make deep cuts in its own farm aid. But he said some countries were unwilling to negotiate other measures that the United States was seeking. These included cuts in taxes on imports of American goods.

Mister Zoellick said the United States would continue to seek free trade agreements through the W-T-O or with individual nations.

Governments around the world expressed regret that the talks in Cancun failed. But anti-free trade activists and developing countries celebrated. Trade officials are expected to meet at the World Trade Organization headquarters in Geneva in December to decide how to continue.

In the News, from VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.