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Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Negotiators want faster trade talks

GLOBAL AGREEMENT Officials say that flagging trade negotiations must be sped up if a new global trade treaty is to be finalized by the year's end

AP , GENEVA

Top trade negotiators must push toward a July target to start drafting a wide-ranging treaty to liberalize global commerce, senior officials said on Monday.

As WTO members edge closer to a year-end summit in Hong Kong, they should step up talks that have been dragging on for four years, said officials from the US, Brazil and the EU, as well as WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi.

Delegations from the 148-nation WTO have gathered this week at the trade body's Geneva headquarters for a read-out on progress in a round of treaty talks, launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, that aim to slash subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to global commerce, and to use trade to help poor nations.

"By July we must have a first draft of everything. It must be balanced," said Clodoaldo Hugueney, a top economic official with Brazil's foreign ministry.

"In July we must be able to see if we are on track for Hong Kong, and if we don't have that we must see what we need to do to arrive at Hong Kong. To do that, it's clear that we must increase the pace of the negotiations here in Geneva. Otherwise it's just a dream," Hugueney said.

US Deputy Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said he hoped WTO members could settle on at least a rough draft text in talks over the coming months.

"We are trying very hard to move these negotiations forward," he said.

"We're very pleased at the sense that is shared very widely," Allgeier said. "We need to complete the round successfully by 2006. People understand that that means that by Hong Kong we have an endgame document.

"And that means that by July, people are going to have to feel confident that all the issues are structured in a way that they are moving to that Hong Kong point."

In 2001, the plan was to create a new global trade treaty by the end of last year.

But a WTO conference in 2003 collapsed amid bickering over investment rules between rich and poor members, as well as differences on agriculture.

High-level meetings in Geneva last July finally led to a framework accord on cutting tariffs in agricultural trade, as well as export subsidies that have helped farmers in rich nations and undercut their poor country competitors.

"This time round the process will be more complicated than in [last] July as the linking up of the various elements of the package will be crucial," said EU Ambassador Carlo Trojan.

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