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AGRICULTURE REPORT - 'G22' Developing Nations - 2003-10-14

Broadcast: October 14, 2003

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

In September, the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, ended without an agreement. There was strong debate about payments to farmers in developed nations. More negotiations are planned for December in Geneva.

At Cancun, the United States had proposed that major industrial nations reduce payments to farmers by seventy-six percent over five years. It also proposed they end all agricultural subsidies by two-thousand-fifteen. In return, the plan called for developing nations to lower taxes on imports and to open their markets to foreign investors.

Developing nations formed a coalition called the Group of Twenty-two. They said rich nations were not willing to offer enough. After the talks ended, American Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the United States would move toward free trade with "can-do countries." He criticized what he called "won't-do countries."

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told Newsweek magazine that the talks did not end because of agriculture. He says the meeting broke down over demands by wealthy nations to discuss rules for government purchasing, trade financing and competitiveness.

Brazil has been a major organizer of the group. China and India are also members. Others include Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa.

But the group no longer has twenty-two members. Last week another Latin American country informed the others of its decision to leave. Costa Rica joined Colombia, Peru and El Salvador.

Each year, rich nations spend about three-hundred-thousand-million dollars on farm subsidies. Subsidies permit nations to reduce the price of their exports. This can force down prices on world markets.

At Cancun, African and Caribbean nations objected to the subsidies for American cotton farmers. The farmers have high production costs. The government pays them more than three-thousand-million dollars a year.

The European Union pays large subsidies to keep its agricultural products competitive. Japan places import taxes of up to one-thousand percent on foreign rice.

After Cancun, some experts say poor nations are in a better position to negotiate. Others, like the Brazilian foreign minister, say the talks were only part of a continuing process.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Steve Ember.