The WTO is supposed to finally be taking up the issue of agriculture subsidies. Four years ago, in Doha, Qatar, poor countries demanded a promise that Europe, Japan and America would slash agricultural subsidies. A year ago, WTO gave itself until July 2005 to draw up a plan for how it would do all this. But the EU and the US are fighting over how little they can get away with when it comes to liberalising farm trade.

The developed world funnels nearly $1 billion a day in subsidies to its own farmers. Poor nations’ farmers cannot compete with subsidised products, even within their own countries. Five years ago some 188 countries signed the UN Millennium Declaration, a magna carta to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease. Chief among those goals was for the rich world to put muscle behind that overused phrase “level the playing field,” when it comes to trade. But so far it has been nothing but talks on trade.

The rich countries should remember what happened in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003, when a bloc of poor nations, led by West African countries upset about cotton subsidies, helped torpedo an international trade deal. But for poor countries, the process of compromise has been a one-way street for more than half a century. It’s time for the rich world to start doing a little compromising.