GENEVA — Top African diplomats warned Monday they will block a deal to advance the Doha global trade talks during the Hong Kong ministerial summit in December if their demands for drastic action on cotton subsidies are not met.

“The African countries will not join the consensus in Hong Kong, that is for sure,” if rich countries fail to deliver on their demands for an up-front commitment in Hong Kong, said Samuel Amehou, Benin’s ambassador to the WTO.

In the last couple of years, Benin, along with Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, has spearheaded efforts in the Doha talks for the plight of poor African producers devastated in global markets by heavily subsidized U.S. and European Union competitors.

Failure to address their pressing demands contributed to the failure of the Cancún summit in September 2003.

The threat came as U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman unveiled an ambitious, but conditional, new U.S. agriculture offer to break the stalemate over farm state issues holding back progress in the round. The offer was made at a meeting in Zurich of trade ministers from a cross-section of 15 WTO members, including the European Union, China, Brazil, South Africa and India.

The U.S. offer calls for a 60 percent cut in trade-distorting, domestic-subsidy levels and the scrapping of export subsidies by 2010 for all products, with accelerated elimination for specific products.

Amehou said 2010 “may be good overall for agriculture, but it’s too late for us. We will not be part of that. We want a fast-track solution for cotton.” He stressed that WTO members agreed in July to deal with the cotton issue “expeditiously.”

Poor nations also want to secure duty-free and quota-free access for cotton and the establishment of an emergency support fund for cotton.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said in Geneva on Monday that the big difference to assist the poorest nations “will come from a genuinely free and fair trading system that allows the poor to trade themselves out of poverty and levels the playing field, with subsidies removed, and I can tell you agricultural subsidies undermine agricultural productivity and the effectiveness of third-world producers.

“Quite frankly, they will get much more out of trading than development assistance could ever give them,” Annan said.

This story first appeared in the October 11, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

According to estimates by U.N. agencies, a Doha deal could boost the global economy by $310 billion a year, with half of these gains going to developing countries. There is some concern, however, that further erosion of trade barriers will mean more industry job losses in the U.S. and Europe.

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