At the recent Doha round of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Hong Kong session, negotiators agreed to eliminate agricultural export subsidies by the year 2013, according to Brock Associates. This represents a concession by the European Union, the largest user of such export subsidies. But Brussels held out against pressure from Brazil and other developing nations to eliminate subsidies by 2010, the date proposed in the U.S. farm trade reform plan.

The agreement also commits to limits on food aid to ensure elimination of the displacement of commercial exports. That includes limits on in-kind food aid, monetization and re-exports. However, negotiators agreed to a “safe box” for bona fide food aid for emergency situations, something that both the U.S. and poor nations had sought.

The Hong Kong agreement calls for wealthy countries to allow duty-free and quota-free imports of at least 97% of products from so-called Least Developed Nations, which will be given special allowances for meeting market opening requirements.

The latest agreement falls far short of the delegates' original objective for the Hong Kong talks — which was to produce a detailed outline for a final trade agreement that would conclude the Doha round by the end of 2006.

In an effort to push toward that goal, the agreement sets April 30, 2006, as the new deadline for working out detailed formulas for cutting farm and industrial tariffs and subsidies. Whether that deadline can be met is uncertain since previous such deadlines have been missed.