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Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 10 News List

WTO talks enter tense endgame in Switzerland

DEAL DELAY Ministers from seven key trading nations have struggled to bridge their differences on subsidies and import tariffs in marathon talks

AFP , GENEVA

Tense and emotional talks to hammer out a new global trade pact paused for the night in deadlock and were set to resume yesterday after major powers accused each other of jeopardizing the deal.

Ministers of seven key trading nations held “intensive discussions and they will continue tomorrow,” Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said after marathon talks ran into a ninth day amid lingering disagreement on proposed import tariff measures.

WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell earlier described the atmosphere at Monday’s top-level meeting as “very tense” and EU commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel said the day had been “emotional,” as she left the overnight meeting.

Ministers are struggling to bridge their differences on subsidies and import tariffs to forge a new deal under the WTO’s Doha Round, which has repeatedly foundered since its launch.

“We continued to discuss some of the contentious issues of livelihood security,” Nath said yesterday, but did not report any agreement on the special tariff proposals that have split India and the US at the talks.

Tensions had peaked overnight concerning WTO proposals to allow developing countries to protect poor farmers by imposing a special tariff on certain agricultural goods in the event of an import surge or price fall, via a “special safeguard mechanism” (SSM).

“There have been very intensive discussions this evening amongst ministers,” said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson after the talks involving Australia, Brazil, China, the EU, India, Japan and the US.

“We work and will continue on what is a very, very complex and sensitive ... issue of SSM,” he said. “The show is on the road and it goes on.”

“The situation is very tense, things are finely balanced and the outcome is by no means certain,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters earlier.

Talks among ministers from about 35 key trading economies had appeared to make a breakthrough on Friday, but optimism about a deal dimmed over the weekend as emerging economies held out for better terms.

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