SOME mildly optimistic words about a world trade settlement were spoken in Washington on Monday after EU president Jose Manuel Barroso met President Bush and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson talked with Susan Schwab his opposite number in the US administration. The so-called Doha Round of talks to establish better trade terms for developing nations have been inactive for several months, mainly because of the inability of Europe and the United States to agree on deep cuts to the subsidies they pay to their farmers.

The matter is now urgent because the delegated authority given to President Bush by Congress to negotiate a package deal and give it “fast track” approval expires in June. Thereafter any agreement would revert to line-by-line Congressional examination and probably be lost along the way. Mr Barroso told a news conference that he and the President had agreed on the importance of of a new global trade deal and had told their trade envoys “to come up with a solution on the divisive issues.” Whether Ms Schwab and Mr Mandelson can find a solution remains to be seen; thus far their relationship has consisted mainly of accusation and counter-accusation over just how much each is willing to cut agricultural subsidies in the interests of producers in developing countries. It often seems that both sides are terrified of the political clout of their farming communities even though, in overall economic terms, they are relatively small players.


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