Fair hope

Suddenly, there is a glimmer of hope that the global trading system might actually be made fairer. The US and the EU — the world’s economic superpowers — seem increasingly open to negotiations on their agricultural subsidies, which buy domestic political support but hurt farmers in the world’s poorest nations. The question is whether political leaders in Washington and Brussels are truly committed to taming powerful farm lobbies that have grown accustomed to life on the dole.

There are some good signs. Pascal Lamy, the European Union trade negotiator, is offering to negotiate an end to direct farm export subsidies. Though only a sliver of the union’s overall $50 billion package of annual farm payments, these direct subsidies are the most egregious trade-distorting payments. They are the reason Europe’s sugar farmers can defy economics and be the world’s leading exporters despite their high costs. Brazil’s recent triumph in challenging the legality of America’s cotton subsidies has also brightened prospects for a deal. Robert Zoellick, Mr Lamy’s American counterpart, deserves credit for working assiduously since January to resurrect the trade talks. His determination is particularly commendable given the protectionist mood on Capitol Hill in an election year. — The New York Times