Associated Press

New Delhi, March 18:

The group of 20 developing nations on Friday demanded that the United States and European countries cut billions of dollars in export subsidies they give their farmers within the next five years. The G-20 nations, which scuttled global trade talks in 2003 with their tough stance on agriculture policy, said at a meeting in the Indian capital that these countries must end export subsidies within “a period no longer than five years,” according to a draft agreement that was to be adopted at the two-day meeting ending on Saturday. The gathering also urged other poorer nations to join their fight to correct what they described as trade imbalances created by non-tariff barriers imposed by rich countries. The five-year timeframe precedes the 2012 deadline the European Union has set for its member nations to cut farm subsidies to a minimum. The United States has yet to agree to any timeframe, but Washington has said it would reciprocate if developing countries reduced tariffs and opened their markets to foreign competition.

The meeting in New Delhi was called to discuss a “common strategy and position” for the group ahead of the next round of World Trade Organization talks to be held in Hong Kong in December. “As we travel the road to the Hong Kong ministerial later this year, we have some serious work ahead of us,” Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said as he opened the meeting in New Delhi. “We will be focusing primarily on agriculture. But we will also have a brainstorming session on the linkages with other issues,” he said. India, China and Brazil led the 20-country group that blocked a US-European Union proposal on farm trade at the last WTO ministerial talks, held in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003. The talks collapsed when the poorer nations refused to ease investment rules and open their agricultural markets to foreign competition unless rich countries stop giving their farmers billions of dollars in subsidies and cut other non-tariff barriers to trade.

Last July, WTO diplomats met in Geneva and hammered out a framework agreement on the contentious issue so that negotiations on a new global trade treaty could be revived. The WTO held a meeting in Kenya this month seeking to settle key issues before the Hong Kong conference. Brazil’s trade minister, Celso Amorim, said the two-day gathering in New Delhi demonstrated unity among poor nations in protecting economic interests. When asked what he expected from the meeting Amorim said, “A lot.” Participants at the G-20 meeting in New Delhi will also discuss non-tariff barriers, such as tough sanitary standards on food imports from developing countries that have been imposed by the European Union and others. The group consists of India, Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, Tanzania, Thailand, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.