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Trade Ministers in Paris for WTO Talks

Trade ministers from 30 countries are scheduled to meet in Paris Wednesday to try to revive faltering world trade negotiations. The differences over agricultural trade, in particular, remain acute between richer and poorer countries.

The meeting in Paris aims to break a deadlock partly over trade barriers and subsidies that has seriously compromised current multilateral trade negotiations, known as the Doha round. The ministers meeting in the French capital represent countries belonging to the World Trade Organization. The WTO has set a 2006 target to complete a wide-ranging treaty that would reduce global trade barriers.

But richer and poorer nations are at odds over several issues, most notably those relating to agriculture subsidies, quotas and tariffs. Developing countries accuse their richer counterparts of erecting protectionist barriers that have closed them out of world markets. Talks at the WTO office in Geneva broke down last month after the European Union pulled out of a compromise deal.

The negotiators are also at odds over how to open up markets around the world for consumer and industrial goods and services, such as telecommunications.

Wednesday’s talks will be held on the sidelines of an ongoing conference on international development hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. At an OECD session Tuesday on the Doha trade negotiations, Argentina's secretary of trade and economic relations, Alfredo Vicente Chiradia, called on richer nations to establish a fair trade playing field so poorer ones could benefit.

"Although trade and aid are complementary, in fact, a fair and equitable system seems to be better suited to the task of contributing to the development of developing countries more than aid. The reach of trade is more extended," he said.

Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, has also blamed rich countries for trying to, “paralyze the negotiations.” In remarks cited by the Associated Press news agency, he accused wealthier nations of trying to extract concessions from poorer ones.

But in a column published Tuesday in Britain's Financial Times newspaper, European Union trade commissioner Peter Mandelson offered a more upbeat assessment of the world trade talks. He said there was still time to deliver a development through trade agenda for developing countries, and reach a rough idea what a final agreement would look like by July.