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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 00:00 GMT
Davos trade ministers talk tough
By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

US Trade representative Rob Portman at Davos
The US has demanded the EU give ground on agriculture
Top trade officials are showing little flexibility ahead of talks aimed at restarting the world trade round.

On Friday and Saturday, nearly 30 trade ministers will be meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

They hope to agree a framework for negotiations on free trade by a 30 April deadline.

But on Thursday officials from the EU, US and Brazil blamed each other for lack of progress.

'Self-defeating' tactics

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson told journalists in Davos that the United States and Brazil risked burying the trade round by insisting on further EU concessions on agriculture.

He warned these tactics could be "self-defeating" and drive "this round into the ground".

Mr Mandelson also demanded that advanced developing countries such as China, Brazil and India should offer further cuts of tariff on manufactured goods.

He said he did not expect the world's poorest nations to follow suit, as not all developing countries were the same: "China is not Chad and Brazil is not Benin."

Line in the sand

US trade representative Rob Portman, however, demanded a fresh EU offer on agriculture, one that went beyond small concessions on so-called "sensitive products", which the EU hopes to protect from trade liberalisation.

But Mr Portman also suggested that there was some room for compromise.

"We are negotiating. We are not drawing lines in the sand, saying take it or leave it," he said.

Mr Portman also said he hoped that new German Chancellor Angela Merkel could get movement into the trade talks by becoming a counterweight to France in internal EU negotiations about trade.

The 149 member states of the World Trade Organisation failed to achieve a breakthrough on trade liberalisation at a summit meeting in Hong Kong in December.

They have now set a deadline of the end of April to agree a framework to complete the trade round which started five years ago.

The year 2006 will be make-or-break for global trade talks, because it is the last year in which US President Bush has so-called fast track authority to push a trade deal through Congress.

Critics of the current trade round say industrialised countries have failed to make any substantial concessions to developing countries, and that it would better for the negotiations to collapse than to result in a bad deal.

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