VALLETTA, Nov 27 (AFP): Leaders of the 53-nation Commonwealth vowed Saturday to redouble efforts to reach a global trade deal that will help poor countries, calling for agreement at key talks next month on scrapping export subsidies by 2010 and compensation for those hard-hit by changing rules.
In a 17-point statement released on the second day of their summit in Malta, the leaders piled pressure on the European Union to make concessions over its system of agriculture subsidies that poor countries say are leaving their farmers out in the cold.
They also called for "financial support" to countries that loose preferential market access, such as sugar-producers that were affected by the EU's recent move to cut prices, during World Trade Organisation talks to be held in Hong Kong starting on December 13.
"There's some heavy demands there but I don't believe that anyone believes they are unreasonable demands. These are the kinds of things that agriculture producers around the world have been waiting for 20 years," said Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon.
"We are not accepting the status quo," he told a news conference.
The Commonwealth groups rich developed economies like Australia, Britain and Canada alongside poor nations like Sierra Leone and Malawi and Caribbean countries that are vulnerable to international trade rules.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union and also chairs the Group of Eight club of wealthy nations, heard appeals here from Caribbean and other leaders to take up their case at the EU and in other fora, sources said.
"There is a high expectation that the EU will do more than the EU is currently saying they will do," said McKinnon.
The Commonwealth statement set out a list of demands for negotiators in Hong Kong including reaching "time-bound commitments for substantial reductions in trade-distorting domestic support and significant improvements in market access."
Leaders said they were committed to injecting "urgency into the work of negotiators at the WTO", adding that delegations would be instructed to "be flexible" and "place priority on a genuinely development-oriented round for the collective good."
They also called for a WTO agreement on "the elimination of all forms of export subsidies by 2010"-a deadline that Commonwealth officials described as a clear indication that they were committed to levelling the playing field.
The talks in Hong Kong in December are aimed at forging a new global trade agreement which could lift millions out of poverty, largely by getting rich countries to lower their tariff barriers blocking developing countries from their markets.
The Commonwealth push for fairer trade came as WTO chief Pascal Lamy released a draft text in Geneva Saturday that was to launch a series of consultations on the new global deal.
As the summit opened on this Mediterranean island Friday, European Union farm ministers agreed at a meeting in Brussels to slash the price of sugar by 36 per cent, sending shockwaves through small sugar-producing countries in Africa and the Caribbean.