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Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
UK pushes for world trade talks
Police and protestors fighting a running battle in Quebec City
World trade talks have met fierce resistance
The UK government has confirmed its intention to press for an "early and comprehensive" round of world trade talks.

Setting out its political agenda in the Queen's Speech, the government promised that a further liberalisation of global trade would "benefit industrialised and developing countries alike".

Labour had laid out its commitment to world trade in its party manifesto, published in May in the run-up to the general election.

Anti-capitalist protestor in London
Critics say free trade results in the exploitation of poor countries
The first opportunity to restart global trade talks will be in November, at the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar.

The last round of trade talks, in December 1999 in Seattle, ended in failure, with recriminations between the United States and the European Union, and between industrialised and developing countries.

The talks were also marred by widespread and often violent demonstrations, with protesters arguing that free trade and economic globalisation harmed poorer nations.

Consulting the critics

Acknowledging past criticism of the WTO, the government said it would ensure that new trade talks would address "the needs and priorities of developing countries so that they benefit fully from further liberalisation".

The government also promised to consult the WTO's critics and address "their legitimate concerns".

But the principle of free trade was not abandoned, with the government reiterating its view that the UK had benefited "enormously from the world trade system".

In briefing notes accompanying the Queen's speech, the Department of Trade and Industry said that a liberalised trade regime would be "good for British growth, jobs and prosperity".

Level playing field

But while many developing countries are in favour of free trade, they have been highly critical of the industrialised nations, which are seen as setting all the trade rules in backroom negotiations.

The UK government said it would make sure that negotiations will be conducted in an open, transparent and inclusive manner.

However, amidst the heavyweights of world trade, developing countries often find it difficult to put their case, as they cannot match the diplomatic resources available to trade blocs like the European Union or countries like Japan and the United States.

But the government says it will argue for building capacity that allows developing countries "to participate in negotiations and implement the results".

Manifesto pledge

The Queen's speech in fact does repeat verbatim the pledge of Labour's election manifesto, to "argue for an early, comprehensive world trade round, to the benefit of industrialised and developing countries alike".

The manifesto went on to say that the WTO "must be reformed, not rejected".

Labour said it would "support fairer terms of trade for developing countries, and a reduction in protectionism in the developed world in areas such as agriculture".


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