WTO Talks Reach Deal on Farm Subsidies
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Hong Kong today, negotiators at the World Trade Organization meetings reached an agreement calling for the world's wealthiest nations to eliminate farm export subsidies by 2013. the deal closes a six-day session that was marked by contentious talks and anti-globalization demonstrations on the streets. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is on the line from Hong Kong.
Anthony, tell us a little bit more about that deal that's been reached.
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
Well, agricultural issues were definitely the most contentious of the things that snagged the talks. As far as the end to farm export subsidies, the European Union wanted 2013. They said that their farmers need time to recover from both cuts in tariffs and subsidies. Developing nations wanted these to end in 2010 or earlier. So that was the compromise.
Now for the least developed countries, the draft that came out today promised duty-free and quota-free access to the markets of developed countries for 97 percent of their products by 2008. That was a compromise in that they had wanted that access for 99.9 percent of their products.
Another issue in the draft is that of cotton export subsidies. West African nations had been pushing for those to end sooner. The US had been resisting this. Now the draft says that those export subsidies will end by 2006. They have to reach a draft agreement on that by April 30th as it stands. But still, that's not enough for many West African farmers who feel their livelihoods are being hurt by these farm subsidies.
HANSEN: You mentioned compromises. Do you think the agreement left all sides with a feeling that they had made substantial ones? Or did, like, wealthy nations feel that they had given up more, poor nations less? How did it shake down?
KUHN: Well, because the end result was essentially what the European Union had wanted, the developing nations had to put a brave face on it. The group of 20 nations which deals with agricultural issues gave it their cautious endorsement and they called it a modest success. That includes important big countries like Brazil and India. I think there was a feeling among many delegates of relief that they had a result to show for six days of talks here in Hong Kong and that things didn't melt down the way they did in Seattle in 1999 or in Mexico in 2003. NGOs have been particularly critical of this, but they have been critical of the entire Doha round of talks that began in 2001.
HANSEN: Of course, the agreement needs to be ratified by countries around the world. Is there any concern that the deal might ultimately fall apart?
KUHN: The Doha round of negotiations is supposed to produce a draft agreement on global trade by next year and there is no consensus that that is completely achievable. The member states still have to sell this deal to their domestic audiences and get them through their own legislatures.
Also, if you talk to many farmers and NGOs here, there are a lot of them who wouldn't be dismayed if the deal did not come through; if this whole thing disintegrated. They feel that this thing has falsely been billed as a development round of talks. It's supposed to benefit poor countries. They don't believe it's doing that at all, and they point to many studies, including ones by the World Bank, that say that poor countries will actually suffer from global trade deals that are being discussed.
HANSEN: There were violent demonstrations Saturday night. Was there violence continuing on Sunday?
KUHN: It's sort of burned itself out last night. Yesterday, there were 900 people arrested; most of them Korean farmers. A hundred and fourteen people were injured according to Hong Kong officials, 44 of them local police. Today, a lot of the activists had been arrested. The few protests that did go on were some demonstrators jumping into Hong Kong Harbor or bowing in the streets or staging sit-ins.
HANSEN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn at the World Trade Organization meetings in Hong Kong. Anthony, thank you.
KUHN: Thank you, Liane.
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