West African countries fighting to abolish developed country cotton production subsidies have won a partial victory at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit in Hong Kong, with trade ministers agreeing to end export subsidies on cotton in 2006.

The deal is particularly unusual, given that it commits rich country exporters to act ahead of the conclusion of an overall WTO Doha Development Round agreement, now expected by the end of next year.

Furthermore, ministers at Hong Kong agreed that developed countries would give unlimited duty-free access for cotton exports for the world's poorest (least-developed) countries once a final Doha deal is inked.

On the vexed question of cotton production subsidies, work needs to be done. But there was conditional agreement that trade distorting domestic subsidies for cotton production will be cut more deeply and quickly than for other farm goods, in a forthcoming agreement on the overall goals of the round's agricultural talks, due 30 April 2006.

By Keith Nuthall.