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World Trade Organization Optimistic Over Reducing Trade Barriers - 2002-07-18

The outgoing and incoming heads of the World Trade Organization are expressing optimism that negotiations to reduce trade barriers around the world will be complete on schedule by December 2004. The negotiations, which were launched in Doha, Qatar in November, are being relied on by many people to give a sorely need boost to the world economy.

Representatives from the World Trade Organization's 144-member countries are meeting this week in Geneva in an effort to resolve differences over a range of key trade issues.

This is the last time the present WTO director-general, Mike Moore, will be overseeing the so-called Trade Negotiations Committee. He hands over his position in six-weeks to Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand.

WTO chief Moore, who comes from New Zealand, told journalists that both he and his heir apparent shared common views regarding world trade and that the transition would be seamless.

"He and I are from the same region. We understand how important it is to bring this round to conclusion on time and believe that to be possible," Mr. Moore said.

Mr. Supachai said he fully agreed with Mr. Moore, but acknowledged that some tough negotiations lay ahead before a global trade deal could be struck.

The areas that present the most difficulties are agreements on market access, tariff reductions, and special terms for poor countries.

Developing countries complain that the big powers, particularly the United States and European Union, are unwilling to give them the special trade treatment they had earlier promised. They have warned if they do not get what they want, they would be in no rush to meet the deadline for ending the round.

Mr. Supachai, who soon will be leading the trade round, said he believes the problems would be resolved, but he also suggested meeting the deadline was not his highest priority.

"I think we should not be too pessimistic about some delays. Deadlines are there. We must, and we should do our best to make the deadlines. They are there, but it is not the end of the world if we should miss some deadlines," Mr. Supachai said.

The leaders of the World Trade Organization said that a successful conclusion to the trade negotiations, whenever it comes, will benefit both rich and poor economies around the world.