Wed, Nov 09, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Five-party talks provide momentum to renewed effort to finish new WTO treaty


WTO member states were regrouping at the global body's base yesterday, a day after key players narrowed differences on a treaty to slash barriers to international commerce.

Talks between Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the US in London on Monday added new momentum to flagging WTO negotiations

The five parties were due to meet in Geneva with a broader range of the 148 trading nations in the WTO, to present the results of their confidential London meeting.

In Monday's talks, the EU appeared to have overcome resistance from powerful developing countries such as India and Brazil to stepping up talks on trade in industrial goods and services, including banking, before controversies are settled in key agriculture negotiations.

The WTO heavyweights are trying to break a bitter deadlock -- particularly over customs duties and subsidies on farm goods -- which is holding up the WTO's four-year-old Doha Round negotiations.

The logjam is jeopardizing the chances of WTO member states approving an outline deal of a trade accord at their Dec. 13-18 conference in Hong Kong.

On Monday, India's Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath -- who hosted the talks at his country's embassy -- hinted that members may have to downgrade goals for Hong Kong, but insisted that this would not affect the overall Doha Round, which trading nations hope to complete next year.

A key plank of the Doha Round, launched in Qatar in 2001, is to use commerce to boost developing countries.

An agreement between the trading powers who gathered in London is seen as crucial because they represent many of the diverging interests in the WTO. But all member states will have to back any deal they make, since the WTO works by consensus.

Developing countries, which accuse rich nations of using subsidies and tariffs to skew the market against them, have been wary of cuts offered by the US and EU, saying they lack real bite.

The EU has faced the strongest criticism, amid claims that its proposed tariff reductions are too small. But ahead of Monday's talks, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson insisted he would not give ground.

Rich WTO members, particularly the EU, have in turn been trying to up the speed in talks on trade industrial goods and in services.

India and Brazil have opposed that in the past, but the issues were on the table at Monday's meeting.

Under the agreement that launched the Doha Round, as well as a subsequent interim deal, developing countries are meant to benefit from special treatment -- and Nath on Monday cautioned rich players not to forget this.

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