The European Union must soon broaden its offer of market access for farm imports if negotiators are to agree on a new World Trade Organization pact, say two senior U.S. government officials.

WTO negotiators made little progress at a Hong Kong meeting last month and agreed to try and reach an outline of a deal by the end of April. Europe has yet to improve its offer.

In separate appearances before the American Farm Bureau Federation, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and the new U.S. agricultural trade negotiator, Richard Crowder, both say lower tariffs is key to a trade pact.

Crowder expects talks to resume later this month. The Swiss government said it will host an informal meeting of WTO trade ministers on January 27-28 during the annual gathering of global business and political leaders at the mountain resort of Davos.

The WTO global trade pact is seen as a way to open rich countries' markets and help lift millions out of poverty in poor nations.

A European Commission official attending the AFB convention says the U.S. position on market access "isn’t realistic" and wouldn’t be supported by developing nations, an important bloc at the WTO bargaining table. The EU has offered to cut its farm tariffs by half overall.

As part of lowering tariffs, the United States would allow a much more limited protection of politically sensitive commodities than the EU. The EU would preserve tariffs on roughly 8 percent of products compared to the US proposal of a percent. Some EU member nations, such as France, say the EU can’t expand its offer.

AFBF, Associated Press