GENEVA (AP) — U.S. and European trade officials said Friday they hope recent progress in World Trade Organization talks to reduce farm tariffs and subsidies will persuade major developing countries such as Brazil and India to open up their manufacturing markets.
U.S. President George W. Bush is likely to meet Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in New York next week in what could be an important encounter for the WTO's six-year drive to conclude a new global trade pact.
The two leaders would be joined by their top trade negotiators, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, according to U.S officials.
The talks come as Washington has breathed new life into the World Trade Organization talks, signaling its willingness at a meeting Wednesday to limit trade-distorting farm subsidies to a level between US$13 billion and US$16.4 billion (euro9.3 billion and euro11.74 billion).
The question of rich countries' farm subsidies has been a major stumbling block in the WTO talks.
On Friday, senior WTO diplomats from the United States and the 27-nation European Union urged their partners in the developing world to share the burden in a trade round that was promised as recipe for adding billions of dollars (euros) to the world economy and lift millions of people out of poverty.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Allgeier said he hoped Washington's commitment to negotiate within the ranges of a draft WTO agriculture agreement would prompt Argentina, Brazil, India and others to make a similar commitment on a parallel WTO proposal for cutting industrial tariffs.
''We haven't seen that yet,'' Allgeier told The Associated Press at the WTO's Geneva headquarters.
EU Ambassador Eckhart Guth said the U.S. move represented a step forward and added that he was optimistic ''progress in agriculture will also trigger progress in other areas,'' a reference to talks on industrial commerce that will restart in earnest next week.
The global trade talks known as the Doha round have repeatedly stalled since their inception in Qatar's capital in 2001, largely because of wrangling between rich and poor nations over eliminating barriers to farm trade and, more recently, manufacturing trade.
The United States has been under considerable pressure to limit payments to American farmers of major crops such as corn, cotton, rice, soybean and wheat. Critics of the subsidies say they drive down prices, making it impossible for small farms to compete in international markets and more difficult for poorer countries to develop their economies by selling agricultural produce abroad.
But Washington's move this week has shifted some of the pressure to major developing countries, which have resisted calls to lower their tariffs on the manufactured products that make up the vast majority of goods traded internationally.
Indian Ambassador Ujal Singh Bhatia and Brazilian Ambassador Clodoaldo Hugueney refused to say if their countries would be willing to accept a proposal by the WTO's lead industrial trade negotiator to cut tariffs on their most protected manufactured products to a level between 19 and 23 percent.
Venezuela completely rejected the proposed figures. ''Those ranges are out of the ballpark,'' Ambassador Oscar Carvallo told the AP.
The new WTO proposals, by chief farm trade negotiator Crawford Falconer and industrial trade talks chairman Don Stephenson of Canada, were released in July in an attempt to force countries into bargaining.
''The Leviathan is moving. There are real negotiations going on,'' Falconer said Friday.
Washington conceded ground on farm subsidies on condition that other countries accept Falconer's plan for cutting tariffs on farm products. For the EU, for example, that would mean a reduction of its highest farm tariffs by 66 percent to 73 percent.
Guth said Brussels has accepted to negotiate in that range. But Japan and Switzerland, two countries highly defensive of their agriculture sectors, said they haven't.
''We have never agreed to any figures,'' Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki said.