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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 07:57 GMT
Progress sought on global trade

By David Loyn
BBC developing world correspondent

Kenyan factory workers
Critics say the poorest countries are being excluded from talks
Trade ministers from some of the world's biggest economies are meeting in London to try to save faltering world trade talks.

A new trade round designed to open up the global economy and make conditions better for poor countries was launched in Doha more than four years ago

But little progress was made at the World Trade Organization's crucial summit in Hong Kong in December.

It was hoped the summit would agree a framework for a new global treaty.

Poorest excluded?

However, despite agreeing to end farm export subsidies by 2013, World Trade Organization (WTO) members made little progress on key issues such as tariffs for agricultural produce and liberalising trade in manufactured goods.

The world's largest economic powers - the EU, Japan and the US - will be represented in London along with two of the fastest growing nations, Brazil and India, and a major farm goods exporter, Australia.

(A trade deal) will not be as ambitious as anyone wants but it will produce something for everybody
Michael Johnson, former UK trade negotiator

But there is no place at the table for the world's poorest countries, although this round of negotiations was supposed to be focused on their needs.

Campaign groups complain that this is business as usual for the WTO, with the richer players stitching up a deal behind closed doors.

It is still unclear whether any deal can be done to save a round which is already a year behind schedule.

'Less ambitious'

Europe and America each claim that they have done enough to cut farm subsidies and want movement to open up markets elsewhere for manufactured goods.

Britain's Trade Secretary, Alan Johnson, has said that if all that is finally agreed is what was on the table in Hong Kong, then that will do nothing for world poverty.

Michael Johnson, a former UK trade negotiator, said he did not expect any agreement on a new trade round to come until the last moment.

"I think in the end there will be a solution to this round," he told the BBC.

"It will not be as ambitious as anyone wants but it will produce something for everybody."

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