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WTO: Meeting Ends With Breakthrough Trade Deal

Anti-WTO protesters on 17 December (epa) The World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong has come to a close after a last-minute compromise that could break down key global trade barriers in the coming years. The agreement reportedly includes a proposal to end all agricultural export subsidies by 2013.

18 December 2005 -- After six days of hard negotiations, often lasting through the night, a breakthrough has been reached on global trade.

At the Hong Kong meeting's closing news conference, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy applauded the efforts of the gathered ministers and delegates.

"You [delegates] have rebalanced the [negotiating] round in favor of developing and least-developed countries. It is not a perfect balance, but as I say, the perfect is the enemy of the good. There have been breakthrough agreements in these negotiations," Lamy said.

A key sticking point was the EU's refusal to give up its farm export subsidies.

But today, EU trade chief Peter Mandelson said he could accept a deal that would end the subsidies by 2013. The deal would also reduce trade barriers in manufacturing and services.

The United States, Brazil, and India took the lead in demanding that the EU end all its farm export-aid programs by 2010. They argued that the subsidies gave European exporters an unfair competitive edge over other farmers, especially those in poor nations.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said he could live with waiting until 2013 because "it is important to have a date."

India's Nath appeared happy with the EU's compromise offer. "We welcome this because, for the first time, it has the complexion of a developmental text justifying that we are now, at least, on the right road," he said. "How much further we are on the road, time will tell. The next couple of months will lead to full modalities. These are just the contours, but the contours are the right contours."

Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, also gave the agreement a cautious embrace at a news conference today. He called it a "fair compromise" but said he needs to know more details.

"I think what is in the document, I would qualify as modest but not insignificant. Modest in the sense that we don't have the full modalities, we don't know by how much the subsidies will be cut, we don't know how fast the elimination of export subsidies will take place, and we don't know the size of the market access that we will have in the developed countries. So, in this respect it's modest," Amorim said.

About 1,000 demonstrators marched through downtown Hong Kong today in an anti-WTO parade chanting: "Down, down WTO! Down, down WTO!"

The march came one day after the arrest of hundreds of protesters, many of them South Korean farmers, after clashes with police. It was Hong Kong's biggest outbreak of violence in decades. Protesters said the WTO's efforts to open up markets benefits big companies and the rich at the expense of ordinary workers and the poor.

WTO Status Of RFE/RL Broadcast Countries

WTO Status Of RFE/RL Broadcast Countries

An exhibition of the history of the WTO in Singapore in 1996 (courtesy photo)

WTO Members:
Armenia: Joined on 5 February 2003.
Croatia: Joined on 30 November 2000.
Georgia: Joined on 14 June 2000.
Kyrgyzstan: Joined on 20 December 1998.
Macedonia: Joined on 4 April 2003.
Moldova: Joined on 26 July 2001.
Romania: Joined on 1 January 1995.

Countries That Are Not Yet WTO Members:
Afghanistan: Submitted its application in November 2004.
Azerbaijan: Submitted its application in June 1997.
Bosnia-Herezgovina: Submitted its application in May 1999.
Belarus: Submitted its application in September 1993.
Iran: Submitted its application in July 1996.
Iraq: Submitted its application in September 2004.
Kazakhstan: Submitted its application in January 1996.
Russia: Submitted its application in June 1993.
Serbia and Montenegro: Submitted separate applications in December 2004.
Tajikistan: Submitted its application in May 2001.
Ukraine: Submitted its application in November 1993.
Uzbekistan: Submitted its application in December 1994.

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For an exclusive RFE/RL interview with former WTO head MICHAEL MOORE,click here.