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Trade ministers edge closer to farm pact

(Tuesday, July 29, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- MONTREAL (Reuters) - Trade ministers from the European Union, the United States and nearly two dozen other countries edged closer to agreement on Tuesday in difficult farm trade negotiations, a WTO spokesman said.

``It's going to require an immense effort (to reach an agriculture deal), but I think on the basis of what we've seen today ... we're still in the game,'' World Trade Organization spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters.

WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi has stressed that trade ministers attending a three day meeting this week in Montreal must reach a consensus on agricultural trade issues for the WTO's meeting in September in Cancun, Mexico, to be a success.

``It seems clear this morning that the ministers responded to this because really for the first time there was engagement,'' on farm trade issues, Rockwell said.

The WTO membership has been divided on the appropriate formula for reducing farm tariffs, with the United States leading one camp calling for bigger cuts in higher tariffs and the EU leading other members favoring a straight percentage cut for all tariffs.

EU agricultural spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber said that in the meeting on Tuesday morning trade ministers for the first time discussed a possible blending of those two approaches as a way of dealing with the market access issue.

``I think this could be a very good basis for finding a solution,'' he said.

WTO members also must reach agreement on two other main areas of the agriculture negotiations, domestic farm subsidies and export subsidies.