U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick emphasized a “real opportunity to achieve historic reforms of global agricultural trade,” including an overhaul of the U.S. cotton program, during a G-90 meeting of trade ministers in Mauritius.

Zoellick pledged to push for reforms in the United States cotton program. “We know this is of primary concern to a number of countries. And I want you to know that I’ll push for reforms too, at home, as well as in the international context.”

He said the only way to deal with cotton trade reform ambitiously will be through agricultural negotiations. “These negotiations should result in substantial reductions in trade-distorting subsidies and substantial reductions in barriers to market access, including in some of the major textile producers that I expect will be using a lot of cotton in a world where textile quotas have been ended.”

He said some of those countries have extremely high tariff barriers, and argued for open markets for cotton: “your cotton, our cotton and cotton of countries around the world.

Zoellick said a key piece of the agricultural trade reform puzzle fell in place with the “EU statement to finally eliminate export subsidies. We have the possibility of achieving very deep cuts in trade distorting domestic subsidies,” he said.

“Also (possible is) significant and effective opening of markets for developed and major developing countries alike.”

He said “special and differential treatment” must be integral in agriculture. “I think there is general acceptance of the concept of special products that we must work on to define.

“We know some of you share an interest with us in trying to maintain the restricted use of food aid. It’s only fair for the European Union that we not use food aid as a form of subsidy, that it not commercially displace other products. We’ve also seen, in this continent most of all, how sometimes it plays a critical humanitarian role.

“We also have an opportunity to eliminate trade distorting elements of all export competition, including any subsidy element of credits. The reality is, the one path to get these results is through the Doha Development Agenda. And for me, that’s why the movement forward of the Doha negotiations is more urgent than ever.”

He said some important aspects of the development agenda relate to cotton.

Zoellick said the last session of the Doha negotiations resulted in “ a missed opportunity. I hope 2004 will not be a lost year for the Doha Development Agenda.”

He said negotiators have made some progress since the Doha negotiations failed in Cancun. “But we still have considerable work to do to make sure we get the Doha Agenda back on track.”

He said trade facilitation also offers promise. “It’s in all our interests to make progress in this area as much as in regular market access. As I look at the dangers some countries will have in adjusting to the end of textile quota removal, it’s clear that many can compete on a cost basis with some of the most competitive developing countries, but the problem is the cost and timeliness of bringing the goods to market.”

Trade facilitation, he said, would deal with customs systems, to make sure information is shared and to add efficiencies to the rules, procedural fairness, and express shipments.

Zoellick called the G-90 meeting “a critical moment. We only have a couple of weeks left to advance the Doha Agenda at our July General Council meeting. And if we fail again, because we did fail the last time, I do not know for sure what will happen to the Doha Development Agenda. I do not know whether it will be revived.”

e-mail: rsmith@primediabusiness.com