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Trade Ministers Aim for Agreement as Doha Development Round Begins


The Head of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, says a successful outcome of the Doha Development Round will help blunt many of the economic threats in the world. Lamy made his remarks at the opening of a ministerial summit aimed at wrapping up world trade talks. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WTO headquarters in Geneva.

About 30 trade ministers are in Geneva for what is seen as a make-or-break meeting. After seven years of negotiations, the ministers hope to conclude an agreement, which will make trade fairer and boost economic growth.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy says there has been enough foot-dragging. He says now it is time for action.

"The time has come to move from discussions to negotiations," Lamy said. "We have talked the talk. We now have to walk the walk to finish the round."

Lamy says the WTO's 153 member states are within reach of achieving an agreement. He says with patience and determination this can happen. He says he can think of no stronger spur for action than the threats facing the world economy.

He says the rising cost of food, the high energy prices and turbulence in the financial markets should be reason enough for governments to conclude a trade deal.

"There is widespread recognition that a balanced outcome of the Doha Round could in these circumstances provide a strong push to stimulate economic growth, " Lamy noted, "providing better prospects for development and ensuring a stable and more predictable trading system."

Some economists say a Doha deal could boost the world economy by nearly $50 billion a year. But before that point can be reached, key issues remain to be resolved.

Developing countries are pushing for rich countries to make deep cuts in farm subsidies and tariffs. The rich nations want the developing countries to cut tariffs on industrial goods and services.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab says Washington is committed to the outcome of this round and will continue to be a leader. But, she adds, other countries also must be willing to contribute more.

"To have a meaningful development outcome to this round ... we know that we have to secure meaningful new market access in agriculture, in manufacturing and in services," Schwab said. "And, that is particularly true when it comes to the interests of the developing countries involved and of the rapidly emerging markets that are so key to this negotiation in terms of their involvement and in terms of the contribution that they can make to a successful outcome."

But many analysts say they are not sure U.S. negotiators can deliver on a trade deal in the final months of the Bush administration. They note the so-called fast-track authority that allowed the White House to call for a straight up-or-down vote on trade pacts expired more than a year ago.

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