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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 June, 2003, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Trade deadlock persists
Wheat in the sunshine
The latest round of trade talks has broken up with the stalemate between rich and poor on agriculture unbroken - but with a slim hope that progress could be made on making vital drugs cheaper for developing countries.

The talks, at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, were meant to inch the process forward towards agreement over reducing the massive subsidies paid by the US, the European Union and Japan to their farmers.

But farming negotiators left Egypt with little to take to the full ministerial meeting due to take place in Cancun, Mexico in September, except a liberal amount of blame.

Accusing the EU of missing a "once-in-a-generation opportunity", US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said progress was impossible "unless agriculture gets moving... and the solution to agriculture is in one European city or the other".

For the EU, Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said: "It is a programme where we all have to give and take, and we all know we need more political energy to give than to take."

'Blunt and direct'

Neither side's position impressed the developing world, however.


Two days earlier, in Mauritius, a meeting of African trade ministers had rejected large parts of the agenda for Cancun, saying it played to Western needs and had failed to make any progress on the important questions for poorer countries of intellectual property and agriculture.

And the director general of the WTO, Supachai Panitchpakdi, warned that the series of missed deadlines on both farming and drugs threatened to derail the whole process of trade liberalisation.

"The director general explained to ministers that he was very worried about the state of play," said spokesman Keith Rockwell, adding that Mr Panitchpakdi had been "blunt and direct".

"He made it very clear that time was running out."

Inching forward on drugs

One potentially important development, however, came as the US dropped its insistence on restricting the programme of allowing poorer countries to import cheap generic drugs to a specific list of illnesses.

US drug companies have been pressuring the White House to make sure that only Aids, malaria and tuberculosis drugs were permitted - not least from the fear that generics makers in Brazil and India particularly would harm their markets otherwise.

But now, according to a US trade official, the position had changed.

"The approach of a specific list proved not to work for a variety of reasons," the official said.

In any case, said WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell, the idea of a restricted list proved to be a stumbling block with developing countries and that they "rejected it out of hand".

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