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Tug of war over tradeoffs

Cancun, Sept. 12: The US, which has privately admitted to developing nations’ officials that it is a “sinner on subsidies” to farmers, is trying to drive a hard bargain on trade-offs with them as it tries to wrap up a deal at the trade talks in Cancun.

The wrangling over concessions began even as the developing nations ranks swelled today with Turkey, which has been trying hard to shake off its image as the poor man of Europe, becoming the 22nd member of the group that is lobbying hard for the elimination of all trade-distorting subsidies in agriculture.

The G-22 was gung-ho over the development since Turkey has been trying hard to break into the European Union and there have been indications all along that it would toe their line.

“This is one of the most significant developments in the creation of the third axis at the trade talks,” said one Indian official.

Turkey is part of a customs union with EU but its entry into the club has been stalled because of a supposedly blighted human rights record. It was not on a list of 10 countries that are being considered for EU membership sometime next year.

The convention centre buzzed with rumours about Turkey’s entry early this morning but Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim, one of the key leaders of the G-21, couldn’t initially confirm the development.

“I’ve been busy with talks right through the day and I haven’t heard anything about it but the rumour,” Amorim told a packed press conference. However, Indian officials later confirmed that Turkey had indeed joined and reckoned that this would put pressure on both the EU and the US to back down on their aggressive stand on farm subsidies.

At his meeting with G-22 officials today, US trade representative Robert Zoellick is believed to have said that the US was prepared to relax its stand on subsidies but asked them, “What is it that you can offer in exchange'”

The G-22 officials were taken aback by the directness of the suggestion and later wondered why they should make any concessions at all when it admitted the charge they have been making all along. “It’s like saying we have sinned, but you must pay a price to make sure that we don’t sin again,” said one official.

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