President George W. Bush and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso discussed their mutual interest in opening up world trade markets for agriculture and other products in a closed door meeting at the White House Tuesday.
Bush told reporters at the end of the meeting that they focused on peace and prosperity. He said they talked about what they could do to advance the trade talks within the 148-member World Trade Organization, which have been held up largely by disputes over farm subsidies.
"We had a good and frank discussion on that," Bush said. "There's no question we share the same objective."
Organization members are supposed to agree at a December meeting in Hong Kong on an outline for a global trade deal to boost the world's economy by lowering trade barriers across all sectors, with particular emphasis on developing countries, for whom farm subsidies are particularly sensitive.
Poor countries say the subsidies to farmers in rich nations hurt their farmers by driving international prices to artificially low levels, allowing producers from rich countries to dump their cheap farm produce on the world market.
"We have a common interest in opening up markets," Barroso said. "We wanted to have ambitious and balanced results on agriculture, but not only on agriculture."
EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said last week the EU was ready to cut "trade distorting" agricultural support by 70 percent, provided others made similar efforts. Barroso was expected to tell Bush he supported Mandelson's approach at the White House meeting, but he didn't tell reporters whether he did so.
The two leaders did not take any questions, the AP says.
Mandelson also offered to reduce the number of sensitive products that have higher import tariffs, such as beef and poultry, but U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said his offer "doesn't come close to meeting the expectations that all of us have on market access."
Portman said last week that if the EU should fail to make deeper farm tariff trade cuts, "we will not be able to have a successful" meeting in Hong Kong.
There is growing opposition, led by France, to any offer by the European Union that would cut farm subsidies beyond what national governments have agreed.
As Bush and Barroso were meeting, foreign ministers of the 25-nation EU were in Luxembourg trying to resolve their differences.
On photo: European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
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