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Peruvian Appointed for Farms Talks

May 9, 2000

GENEVA (AP) _ The World Trade Organization on Monday appointed Peruvian trade diplomat Jorge Voto-Bernales to head negotiations aimed at opening agriculture markets, ending months of deadlock.

The issue has been stuck because the European Union and the 18-nation Cairns group refused to accept each other’s candidates. Agriculture is the most divisive issue at the WTO and disagreements over it played a major part in the collapse of the body’s ministerial meeting in Seattle.

``I am just grateful and pleased we have got people in place who want to do a job,″ WTO Director-General Mike Moore told reporters.

Voto-Bernales, appointed to head the WTO’s agriculture committee, will oversee the talks, aimed at liberalizing markets and improving access for member nations to each other’s markets.

The council also appointed Yoichi Suzuki of Japan as vice-chairman. He is expected to chair normal committee meetings but not the separate negotiating sessions. Japan supports the EU over agriculture.

The Cairns Group, which includes Australia, Brazil and Canada and is supported by the United States, says agriculture should be treated like any other item which is traded between countries. It is calling on the European Union to remove its heavy subsidy program on the grounds that this distorts trade.

The EU, which devotes around half its total budget to agriculture subsidies, says that food production is special and discussions on opening markets should also consider issues such as food security, protection of rural communities and animal welfare.

The WTO has been committed to starting talks on agriculture this year since well before the Seattle debacle, but the 136 members were unable to agree what should be included in the package.

Moore was forced to appoint an interim chair for the first meeting of the agriculture committee in March, but pushed for a quick permanent appointment.

Peru is not a member of the Cairns Group, so Voto-Bernales was considered more acceptable.

The meeting also appointed Ambassador Chak Mun-See of Singapore to chair the council for trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.

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