ZURICH, Oct 11 (Reuters): The United States injected life into world trade talks yesterday with an offer of deep cuts in farm subsidies and the future elimination of tariffs, but first reactions showed an end- year deadline for a deal is difficult.
US trade chief Rob Portman said his country was willing to accept "some pain" to win agreement and open the way to a new pact that analysts say could pump billions of dollars into the global economy and help lift millions out of poverty.
But the plan, spelt out by Portman at a meeting of trade ministers, was rejected out of hand by Japan as being too demanding, while Brazil said it fell short of what was needed.
The move immediately triggered an improved offer on subsidies from European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson, who told ministers in his address that time was running out.
The 148-state WTO needs to agree a blueprint for the final stage of its Doha Round at a ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December, but negotiations are snagged on a host of issues, with agriculture the most pressing.
But aid agency Oxfam called the plan "smoke and mirrors", saying it would allow the United States to leave spending untouched and keep dumping surplus food on foreign markets.
The Round, due to be completed by the end of 2006, aims to lower barriers to trade across the global economy. Poorer countries are demanding deep cuts to farm subsidies they say stop them competing on world markets.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan voiced strong support for that stance in Geneva Monday, saying the poor would only be helped by "a genuinely free and fair trading system".
Portman said he proposed tariff cuts during the next five years, starting at 55 per cent and reaching 90 per cent on the highest tariffs in rich countries. After a five-year pause, tariffs could be cut to zero by 2023.
He said the United States was prepared to reduce its subsidies by 60 per cent but that others such as the EU and Japan, which spend more, should slash theirs by 80 per cent.
Japanese farm minister Mineichi Iwanaga said through a translator: "Japan is not able to accept the US proposal of domestic support as a basis for further discussions."
Meanwhile, AFP adds: The United States and the European Union sought to break a deadlock in World Trade Organisation talks yesterday, putting forward fresh proposals to slash farm subsidies aimed at galvanising the foundering negotiations.
But Japan rejected the US plan on grounds that it would not go far enough in reducing Washington's assistance to its agricultural sector.
As the 148 trading nations in the WTO face a looming December deadline to reach a multilateral agreement on reducing barriers to global commerce, US trade chief Rob Portman and EU counterpart Peter Mandelson set out their proposals to key players at a meeting here.
The United States and the EU have in particular been pushing each other for concessions and have been under pressure from developing countries to do more to open their markets.
He said he hoped Japan, Canada, South Korea, Switzerland and Norway -- also major users of farm subsidies -- would "come with us along the way."
Developing countries and campaigners say government support for US and EU farmers enables them to offload produce at artificially low prices, meaning unfair competition for poor producers.
The advocacy group Oxfam criticised Portman for focusing on permitted, rather than real, spending.
Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim was wary about both proposals.
Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said he also wanted to see more substance.
The day-long discussions in Zurich mark yet another attempt to resolve differences and draft a treaty in time for the WTO's conference in Hong Kong, now just two months away.