U.S. proposes WTO farm trade talks aimed at boosting food security

Last Updated: Wed, May 01, 2013 22:05 hrs

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it was prepared to examine how agricultural policy reform could boost global food security as part of a package of commitments at the World Trade Organization's upcoming meeting in December.

"The United States agrees with India and other proponents that enhancing food security in developing countries is indeed an important issue for this body to address," U.S. Ambassador to the WTO Michael Punke said in Geneva, according to a text of his remarks released in Washington.

"Therefore, today we are stating our openness to a work program, to be agreed by Bali, on food security that can examine the full range of trade-related government measures that can contribute to that goal," Punke said.

The U.S. outreach comes as WTO members are striving to agree on a "small package" of trade reforms at the group's upcoming ministerial meeting in December in Bali.

In late 2001, WTO members launched an ambitious round of global trade talks aimed at slashing farm subsidies, cutting tariffs on agricultural and manufacturing goods and opening services markets around the world to more trade.

Twelve years later, the WTO's failure to complete the so-called Doha round has tarnished its reputation.

A major reason for the impasse is the U.S. insistence that advanced developing countries like China, Brazil and India make better offers to open their markets in exchange for proposed cuts to U.S. farm subsidies.

Earlier this month, Punke warned the WTO was "hurtling towards irrelevance," with continued disagreements casting doubt on reaching a "trade facilitation" deal at the Bali meeting to cut red tape from customs procedures.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Punke sounded more optimistic and identified new areas of U.S. flexibility in response to concerns raised by developing countries about problems they could face implementing the trade facilitation pact.

"A number of members are putting forward their own flexibilities. This is what is needed to secure a Bali outcome: nations with the will to make tough decisions to advance the text," Punke said.

The proposed food security work program should look at how food security could be enhanced by "further liberalization in agriculture trade, reductions in trade-distorting domestic support, elimination of export restrictions, improved transparency, and efficient distribution systems," he said.

It should also examine the effectiveness of public stockholding and administered prices in addressing food security concerns, as well as "how to improve food security though better-functioning markets," he said. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Paul Simao and Paul Simao)

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