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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 November 2005, 09:33 GMT
'Big gaps' remain in trade talks
Trade officials from the European Union, India, Brazil and the United States
Trade ministers insisted the Hong Kong summit would not fail
Trade ministers have downplayed expectations of securing an outline deal on a global trade treaty at next month's key summit in Hong Kong.

Officials from the US, Europe, India, Brazil and Japan said progress had been made in talks in London but that "big gaps" remained over key issues.

World Trade Organization members will continue talks in Geneva on Tuesday.

Moves towards a global trade agreement have been boosted by the US and China agreeing a deal on textile imports.

Announced on Tuesday, the deal follows months of wrangling over the soaring level of Chinese clothing imports into the US.

Earler in the year, the EU and China agreed limits on textile imports.

Reality check

The international community is aiming to agree a free trade deal by the start of 2006 but reform of farm subsidies remains a big sticking point.

There is a lot of ground to cover and the gaps remain very big
Celso Amorim, Brazilian foreign minister

After their meeting in London, trade ministers attempted to lower expectations of securing a major breakthrough at the WTO summit in Hong Kong starting on 13 December.

"It is not that Hong Kong is going to be a failure," said Kamal Nath, India's commerce minister.

"We are tempering expectations based upon the timing and the intricacy."

Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said there was better understanding of negotiating positions but he warned: "There is a lot of ground to cover and the gaps remain very big."

Range of issues

EU and US officials said progress had been made in addressing other issues apart from reform to agricultural subsidies, the most fierce point of difference between the two.

Of course divergences remain
Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner

The issue of greater market access to manufactured goods and international services such as banking - which India and Brazil have been reluctant to discuss up to now - was now on the table.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said Monday's talks were more intense and specific than previous discussions.

"Of course divergences remain and certainly this discussion must be enlarged to a broader group of WTO members," he said.

Farm differences

The Hong Kong summit is timetabled to rubber stamp a trade deal, completing the Doha round of trade talks which started back in 2001.

Both the US and EU agree cuts to farm subsidies and tariffs are needed to aid producers in the developing world.

Mr Mandelson recently offered to cut tariffs on imported food goods by up to 60%, but the US said he was not going far enough.

The French government, wishing to look after its country's large agricultural community, has said it may block any deal if Mr Mandelson makes too many concessions.




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