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Nations Agree to Phase Out Farm Export Subsidies

World Trade Organization General Director Pascal Lamy at the meeting’s close on Sunday said, ”We are leaving here with one step forward but there remains a lot to be done.”

 ”We came in here with 55 percent of the round completed. We are leaving here with 60 percent.”

During the six days of negotiations, delegates agreed to work toward dismantling trade barriers in manufacturing and services, settling disputes over farm programs and providing greater support for developing nations. Representatives vowed to complete the current round of WTO negotiations by late 2006 after setting a new deadline of April 30 for a draft agreement. The draft must then be approved by all 149 member countries.

A failure at Hong Kong would have ended hopes of completing the Doha Development Agenda — the current round of free trade talks — and damaged the credibility of the WTO after the collapse of two of its last three key meetings. The Doha round focuses on lifting developing countries out of poverty by eliminating trade barriers and increasing access to world markets.

Developing countries pushed to eliminate farm export subsidies by 2010, but the European Union insisted on an end date of 2013 to allow European farmers time to adjust. There was little headway on cutting EU farm tariffs.

Other agreements at Hong Kong called for rich countries to eliminate all export subsidies on cotton by 2006 and gave the world’s poorest nations special trade privileges. The group of Least Developed Countries — nations with annual per capita incomes of $750 or less — was given duty-free and quota-free access to the markets of rich countries for at least 97 percent of products by 2008.

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