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Doha Free Trade Talks Resume at WTO

Lisa Schlein

Trade experts from 151 countries are resuming international trade talks in Geneva. Delegates to the World Trade Organization talks hope to reach compromises on a number of issues that have been holding up an agreement to liberalize world trade for the past seven years. Lisa Schlein reports from WTO headquarters in Geneva.

Normally, nothing happens at the World Trade Organization during the first week of the New Year. But, these are not normal times. WTO spokesman, Josep Bosch, tells VOA there is a sense of urgency to restart negotiations on the so-called Doha round of trade talks immediately.

"We have been negotiating for seven years and after seven years people are honestly getting a bit tired and now is the time to say is it possible to reach something? Is it possible that we can get altogether into an agreement that would really make a good impact on the economy of the world? And, this cannot go on forever. So, that is why there is an urgency and, there is so much that already has been achieved that now it would be a real waste to leave everything to waste," said spokesman Bosch.

Though much has been achieved, much remains to be done. The main sticking point continues to be agriculture. Developing countries want greater access to the markets of rich countries for their farm exports.

They accuse the United States and European Union of distorting the market by giving huge subsidies and domestic support to their farmers and products. For their part, the rich countries want the poorer countries to lower the tariffs they impose on imported industrial goods.

Bosch says a balance has to be struck between these two competing interests. He says both the agricultural and industrial negotiations are closely linked.

"We always schedule the negotiations for industrial goods after agriculture because people are very much looking into what is the concession that rich countries are going to make in agriculture and then they are going to say, yes, I am prepared to give some concessions for the reduction of tariffs for your products to get into my market or not. This always depends on what happens in agriculture," explained Bosch.

Many observers believe it will be more difficult to reach a deal after the Bush Administration leaves office at the end of this year.

Bosch maintains a neutral position and says the United States is a very important member of the WTO and participates at all levels of the negotiations.

"Of course, everybody is watching the election in the United States because it is the biggest trader in the world. But, The WTO agenda cannot be just following one single country because as I said we are 151," he said.

Bosch says it is important to reach an agreement on liberalizing world trade as soon as possible. And then, he adds, WTO and its member countries will see what position the newly elected American officials take when they are in power.

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