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Agricultural Negotiations at the WTO: First, Do No Harm

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Trade negotiators at the World Trade Organization (WTO) are struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline of December 2005 to agree on the broad outlines of a new trade deal that would cover global commerce in agricultural products, manufactured goods, and a wide array of services. The key bottleneck is agriculture: unless the shape of a deal on agricultural trade can be agreed upon, developing countries will block progress on trade liberalization for manufactured goods and services, the issues of paramount importance to developed countries. Multilateral trade liberalization will stall. However, negotiations have not yet focused on a pivotal issue in developing countries' agricultural sectors, namely the fact that subsistence farming is the main source of income for most of the poor. This issue deserves immediate attention as negotiators return to Geneva for a last effort to forge an agreement by December.