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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 December 2005, 13:03 GMT
Limited optimism for trade deal
Workmen putting up security barriers  outside the main conference hall
Security at the event is already very tight
As global trade leaders arrive in Hong Kong for a key World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting, expectation is not high that they can secure a new trade deal.

The WTO Ministerial Conference is supposed to rubber-stamp a new global free trade agreement, but nations remain heavily divided over key issues.

Agriculture remains the main stumbling block, specifically rich countries reducing subsidies and import tariffs.

Many blame the European Union for this impasse, but other barriers also exist.

Both the United States and developing countries claim the EU is not prepared to make sufficient cuts to the support it gives its own farmers, and reductions in tariffs on imported food stuffs.

EU pressure

Yet the EU, whose hands are tied by its member states, says its final offer of a 46% cut in farm tariffs remains a significant reduction.

The EU, which is being heavily leaned on by France not to go any further, argues that other nations are not moving far enough on access for industrial goods.

Brussels also says it has an obligation to protect farmers in former European colonies, who receive preferential trading with Europe.

At the same time, a number of other developing countries also criticise the US and Japan for not sufficiently opening up their markets.

Tight security

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson has already admitted that achieving a new trade deal at Hong Kong is unlikely, despite his concern at how this could be perceived.

"I have a real fear that if they [the talks] fail ... we will be giving many people less confidence in the international system, less to hope for and that could be very alienating for many people in the world and therefore very dangerous not only for them but for the rest of us as well," said Mr Mandelson.

WTO boss Pascal Lamy has also already suggested that no final agreement will be possible at Hong Kong, and that talks will instead continue into 2006.

The Hong Kong meeting starts on Tuesday and will run for six days amid heavy security in the face of a great many protestors.


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