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World Trade Talks Enter Critical Phase


The World Trade Organization says the ongoing talks known as the Doha Development Round have entered a critical phase. It says trade ministers are making progress in narrowing differences in several crucial issues. But WTO officials say disagreements remain. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WTO headquarters in Geneva.

Trade ministers are working overtime to try to agree on a package of trade rules aimed at boosting the global economy and providing benefits for developing countries.

Main sticking points include disagreements over farm subsidies and barriers to trade in goods and services.

World Trade Organization Chief Spokesman Keith Rockwell says countries are working hard and are inching closer toward agreement.

He says WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy is pleased with the way negotiating sessions are progressing.

"At the end of the session, the director-general said when we look at the package that is on the table this morning in terms of its size and economic consequences, as compared to what remains still to be done, he said he hoped members will agree it is enormous and represents significant progress from where we started last week," said Rockwell. "He said this is therefore time not only for a sense of urgency, but also a sense of realism. We are close to closure on what is a very substantive achievement. Let us go that short distance to the summit."

The talks were on the point of collapse last week. Lamy mediated a proposed settlement among seven key trading nations and extended the talks into a second week in an effort to reach compromises needed to wrap up a deal.

The proposed settlement calls for cutting European farm subsidies by 80 percent and U.S. cash supports to farmers by 70 percent to about $14.5 billion. The proposal also involves cuts in tariffs on agricultural imports and on the industrial services sector.

WTO Spokesman Rockwell says there has been enormous convergence on a number of negotiating texts in the past few days and what is on the table is very substantial. While it appears more deals are in the offing, he raises a word of caution.

"I hasten to add the eternal proviso of this house, which is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," he said. "In some cases we have virtual agreement, but members are withholding final consensus or approval until they see how things emerge elsewhere."

A U.S. trade official warns actions by China and India are jeopardizing a final agreement. He criticizes India for rejecting the package and China for backing out of the terms it agreed to last week.

Members agree time is running out for the seven-year Doha Round and if a deal is ever to be struck, it will have to be done soon.

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