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WTO head warns Seattle talks could fail

Yahoo! Headlines World
Thursday November 11, 7:19 PM

FOCUS-WTO head warns Seattle talks could fail

By Raffaella Malaguti

ROME, Nov 11 - World Trade Organisation chief Mike Moore on Thursday warned the launch of new global trade talks next year could be under threat, with negotiators still split over the agenda for a key meeting in Seattle in three weeks.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Moore appealed to the WTO's 134 nations to understand the cost of failing to launch the so-called millennium round, which is designed to bring down further barriers to free trade, and urged governments to be more flexible in their demands.

"It is still possible that we could fail in Seattle, but imagine the cost of failure," Moore said.

Envoys at preparatory talks in Geneva have been at odds for months over an agenda for Seattle, where the WTO hopes to launch successor negotiations to the 1994 Uruguay Round. Failure to agree would force ministers to decide themselves what the next round should cover -- a task most diplomats see as impossible.

Moore described the deadlock as "serious" but said the atmosphere in Geneva was positive despite diminishing chances of reaching a full accord. "Not everything can be agreed before Seattle but we hope to provide a solid base and that we can achieve in the next few weeks," Moore said.

"We will have a draft for ministers to work on...but we must ensure ministers are not faced with a 40- to 50-page document."

In fact, diplomats in Geneva have so far produced only a 34-page paper which is almost entirely in brackets, meaning practically none of it has been agreed.

Agriculture, particularly the system of farm subsidies in place in the European Union and other countries like Japan, has been one of the main obstacles.

The United States and other countries grouped in the 15-nation Cairns group in the WTO want agriculture to be at the centre of talks and attack the farm subsidies.

But the EU, Japan and South Korea say farm products should not be treated like normal industrial products as they play a special role in food security and in protecting the environment and rural culture.

And as sides continue to accuse each other of blocking preparations for the new round with their hard stances, Moore warned governments they must show more flexibility if talks are to advance. "We have to show a bit of vision and look beyond a ton of butter versus a ton of linen debate," he urged.


In a speech delivered minutes before Moore, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema said progress in the trade talks could be delayed by political uncertainty in the United States in the run-up to next year's elections. D'Alema said the trade divisions between the United States and the EU also reflected a political rift between a Democrat administration and Republican Congress and the fact that Americans were entering a "delicate electoral period".

He said it was well known that the United States wanted to take a more selective approach to the trade talks in order to reach specific results in sectors of national interest, while the EU took a more global approach.

"All of this risks -- despite the improvement in the climate between the two parties that followed (European Commission President Romano) Prodi's visit to Washington -- leaving the negotiations substantially blocked until the new administration and the new Congress are in place," he said. "We must make an effort so that the talks can proceed anyway."

Prodi and President Bill Clinton met last month to seek to bridge differences. They failed to make concrete progress but agreed to intensify negotiations on controversial issues like farm subisidies and genetically modified foods.

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