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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 11:39 GMT
WTO: Trade talks to resume

Agriculture still dominates trade talks Agriculture still dominates trade talks

The World Trade Organisation has agreed to resume talks about liberalising trade in agriculture and services - two months after global trade talks collapsed in Seattle amid mass protests.

The battle for free trade
The WTO, which regulates world trade, plans to begin discussions on banking and insurance in late February, with talks on trade in agricultural goods to follow in March.

"There is progress on all fronts - the WTO is back in business," said a jubilant Mike Moore, the WTO's boss.

There is progress on all fronts - the WTO is back in business
Mike Moore, WTO director general
But his elation could still prove premature.

The WTO has agreed to resume talks over two issues that were held over from the previous round of trade talks, which ended in l994.

But it has still not agreed an agenda to resume a full new trade round, which was supposed to have been launched in Seattle in December.

Poor countries' concerns

At that meeting, countries from the developing world objected to moves by Europe and the United States to widen the trade agenda to include issues like investment, environment and labour standards.

Child labour is still a contentious issue Child labour is still a contentious issue
They feared that these would be used to weaken the commitment of industrialised countries to free trade, allowing them to block access for goods produced in developing countries where labour costs or environmental standards were lower.

Indian ambassador Srinavasan Narayanan was pleased that the "development dimension" would be in the forefront of any new trade talks.

Developing countries also won another concession when delegates agreed that they would have longer to implement measures to insure copyright protection and intellectual property rights were applied around the world.

Protests mount

Meanwhile, the WTO continued to come under attack from both left and right.

WTO boss Mike Moore MIke Moore: damaged by Seattle protests
Protesters opposed to further free trade vowed to disrupt a UN meeting in Bangkok this weekend, while Republicans in the US Congress attacked the WTO for failing to help US farmers.

"I would like to see WTO succeed, but so far I have to say their grade would probably be a C - in terms of carrying out WTO decisions," said Senate leader Trent Lott, criticising the lack of progress on opening agricultural markets, particularly in Europe.

Meanwhile, security has been tightened ahead of a key meeting in Thailand on trade issues.

The Bangkok meeting of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) was billed as a forum for developing countries to discuss trade and investment issues.

Non-government organisations have vowed to use the occasion to press for a radical reform of the world's financial institutions, including the WTO and the International Monetary Fund.

They say protests will be peaceful, but after the violence in Seattle, the Thai authorities are taking no chances.

The Bangkok meeting will be hosted by Supachai Panitchpakdi, Thailand's commerce minister. He will take over in three years as the next boss of the WTO, after a bitter leadership battle with Mr Moore that lasted for six months last year.

It was that conflict that first revealed the growing gulf between the views of many developing countries who make up the bulk of the WTO's 135 members and the rich industrial countries.

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See also:
29 Jan 00 |  Sci/Tech
Controls agreed on GM imports
18 Jan 00 |  Business
World trade talks stalled
13 Jan 00 |  Business
US battle over China intensifies
25 Dec 99 |  Business
Body blow for free trade

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