(Sept. 11) Demands from developing countries for special protection from imports will hamper reaching a basic framework agreement for completing the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization, observers reported on the eve of the Sept. 10-14 ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

Governments have given themselves until the end of next year to complete the work, which was launched two years ago in Doha, Qatar.

News reports indicate that the 17-nation Cairns Group of agricultural exporting nations, led by Australia, is working with developing countries such as India to get the U.S. and the European Union to slash subsidies.

The prospect of sharply reduced U.S. and EU subsidies for crops like corn and wheat is considered remote by some experts, who note that developing countries aren’t prepared to give back.

“You’ve got a group of 20 countries, including India, Argentina and Brazil, that have come together and said they want deep cuts in U.S. and European domestic supports and deeper cuts in market access but don’t have a lot to offer in return,” said James Christie, who is a Sacramento, Calif.-based managing director and partner in Bryant Christie Inc., Seattle.

Sept. 8, during a joint news conference in Washington, D.C., a coalition of farm groups said progress on the three pillars of reform — market access, export competition and domestic support — was essential to any deal.

The groups, which included the American Farm Bureau Federation, Park Ridge, Ill., and associations representing mostly program crops such as sugar and grain, said both developed and developing countries must harmonize tariffs and reduce trade-distorting policies.

The biggest challenge to an agreement with developing countries is their insistence to be shielded from reductions in tariffs, including tariffs for fruit and vegetable imports, Christie said.

While expectations of the Cancun talks are low, Christie said he and other trade consultants are hopeful U.S. negotiators can leave the door open to so-called “sectoral initiatives,” which would create bigger gains in market access and reductions in subsidies for the fruit and vegetable sector.

Christie, who was traveling to Cancun Sept. 9, said progress toward a sectoral initiative could help the industry make up lost ground.

“The feeling is that, over time, we’ve traded away a lot of advantages for fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said.

Europe still gives its fruit and vegetable sector $7 billion to $10 billion in domestic subsidies and billions more in export subsidies, he noted.

The U.S. provides no trade distorting subsidies to its fresh produce growers, he said.