(Jan. 19) Seeking to keep alive global trade talks, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick urged world trade ministers to consider a drop-dead date for export subsidies.

In a Jan. 11 letter to trade ministers to 148 Word Trade Organization countries, he said he wanted to make the most of the opportunities to liberalize trade in agriculture, goods and services.

The round of talks was supposed to finish by year’s end, but most observers think negotiations will continue for at least another year after that.

In his letter, Zoellick stressed the need for WTO members to reform export competition, domestic support and market access.

The first priority should be export subsidies, with a set deadline, he said.

In addition, WTO members should agree to substantially decrease and harmonize levels of trade-distorting domestic support and seek a substantial increase in real market access opportunities in developed and major developing countries.

The letter said that the U.S. stands by its 2002 proposal to set a goal of total elimination of trade-distorting subsidies and barriers to market access. It also suggested that domestic support, export subsidies and tariffs for cotton be cut substantially.

Still, European leaders remain critical of U.S. reluctance to change laws that have been deemed illegal by the WTO — such as the foreign sales corporation — and some feel antiterrorism laws have been a cover for protecting domestic agriculture.