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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK

Business: The Economy

Trade talks hit buffers

Tokyo talks: No agreement on any of the important trade issues

Representatives from four of the world's major trading blocks have ended two days of discussion in Tokyo with little progress on some of the most controversial issues before them.

Ministers from the European Union, US, Japan and Canada had gathered to try to iron out how to run the next round of global trade negotiations to be hosted by the US in Seattle.

Global trade issues are a political hot potato with the US and European Union squaring up to one another in a number of disputes.

[ image: Sir Leon Brittan talks trade with Sergio Marchi]
Sir Leon Brittan talks trade with Sergio Marchi
These include the importing and exporting of: bananas, hormone-treated beef and genetically-modified crops, among other issues.

Compounding the problem is the apparent chaos gripping the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which is supposed to police world trade disputes.

It is currently leaderless with seemingly no lubrication of the logjam in which the 130 or so members are unable to come to a decision over who the new head should be.

China syndrome

China's entry into the WTO is another bone of contention, complicated by the recent Nato bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade.

The Financial Times newspaper says China is linking the bombing with its attempt to join the WTO.

As a condition of the easing of diplomatic tensions and sustaining world unity against Yugoslavia, it wants to be allowed in without opening up its markets any more.

The US has repeatedly asked Beijing to relax its restrictions as a prerequisite for WTO membership.

China is refusing to allow the UN security council to discuss a Kosovo peace plan until air strikes stop.

"(We) will continue our respective as to enable China to participate in the next round (of global trade talks) as a WTO member," said a statement issued at the end of the meeting.

Keeping up appearances

[ image: Charlene Barsefsky of the US hears the trade news]
Charlene Barsefsky of the US hears the trade news
In public officials have been playing a straight bat reiterating that the Nato bombing and China's WTO bid should not be linked.

Canada's trade minister Sergio Marchi said: "We can't have special deals for some and not for others."

EU trade chief Sir Leon Brittan added: "We still have a considerable way to go."

The quadrilateral talks reached no agreement on who should be the next head of the WTO, a subject of increasingly acrimonious debate, with the ministers merely agreeing that the issue be settled by consensus rather than by a vote.


Japanese Trade Minister Kaoru Yosano, who chaired the meeting, said no specific names for the next WTO chief were raised at the talks, while a consensus even among the four seemed distant.

US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky said Washington still favours former New Zealand Prime Minister Mike Moore, while Mr Marchi said Canada was backing its own former trade chief Roy MacLaren for the job. Japan supports Thai Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi.

The four sides also made little headway on the issue of how to carry out the next round of global trade talks, which will begin next year under the auspices of the WTO.

The four "affirmed the importance of accelerating and deepening preparatory work between now and Seattle and the establishment of specific schedules and timetables for the conduct of negotiations," the statement said.

Japan and the EU favour a comprehensive approach, in which nothing would be decided until everything is decided, while Washington is believed to be seeking quick agreements on a sector-by-sector basis.

A senior Japanese trade official saw reason for optimism, however, in the ready acceptance by the US of a three-year time limit on the next round of trade talks.

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