EU to make new offer on cotton in WTO talks
"We are preparing a special offer aimed at developing countries, the poorest countries," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told a joint news conference with Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure.
"We will make it public before the Hong Kong ministerial meeting" of December 13-18, when WTO trade ministers are hoping to unblock stalled talks on a new global trade agreement, Barroso added.
EU trade chief Peter Mandelson would outline the offer to Toure on Friday, the commissioner's spokesman Peter Power said.
Mandelson's offer would be to eliminate "all form of exports subsidies for cotton in all developed countries", and offer duty-free access to cotton imports in "all developed and advanced developing countries", Power said.
The EU would also offer "a substantial reduction of trade distorting domestic support for producers in developed countries".
Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, for which cotton is a vital export, have said their interests must not be sidelined at the Hong Kong summit.
The Hong Kong meeting is meant to agree the outlines of an international accord to cap the Doha round negotiations launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital.
The negotiations aim to produce a wide-ranging multilateral deal cutting tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to commerce while using trade to boost living standards in developing countries.
The West African cotton producers want the summit to fix a date for the elimination of cotton subsidies.
Power said that the EU wanted its cotton proposals to "come into effect at once after" the Doha round is concluded while "the Americans want to delay it".
The cotton proposals come as Brussels seeks to deflect growing criticism that it is holding up progress in the WTO talks because its promises to cut agriculture subsidies and tariffs do not go far enough in removing barriers to trade.
The EU, where cotton production is marginal and concentrated in Greece and Spain, aims to turn up the pressure on the United States, which has a big and heavily subsidised cotton sector, Power said.
The British government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, sought to tighten the screws on the US and urged Washington to reduce funding for its cotton farmers.
"It would be very helpful if the United States acted now before Hong Kong," Britain's Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn told reporters in London.
Sub-saharan cotton producers can already export cotton to the EU free of customs duties as part of a so-called "Anything But Arms" programme giving favourable trade terms to the least developed countries.
Brussels wants other WTO members to adopt similar programmes.
"Others have much bigger subsidies than Europe on cotton," Barroso said.
"Instead of making rhetoric, negotiations need to move and I hope that can clearly happen before Hong Kong," he added.