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Last Updated: Friday, 10 March 2006, 21:39 GMT
Trade chiefs hope to revive talks
Rwandan coffee processor
Developing countries want action on farm subsidies
India's trade chief has urged the US and Europe to focus on the interests of poorer countries in current trade talks or risk their collapse.

Kamal Nath made the call as negotiators from Europe, the US, Japan, Brazil, Australia and India met in London.

They hope to find agreement on cutting farm subsidies and industrial tariffs.

But there was little expectation of a breakthrough at the talks, as Europe, the US and developing countries remain far apart in several key areas.

"We do hope that the United States and the European Union will recognize that this is a development round and not look for this to be a suicide round," Mr Nath said as the two-day meeting began.

Limited progress

Europe's trade chief Peter Mandelson who is chairing the talks said they had had begun in a "business-like manner with a good atmosphere", put played down hopes of any agreement.

We've all put our offers on the table
Peter Mandelson
EU trade chief

"Our job is to build consensus in order to help the wider membership of the WTO to reach agreement later on," he added.

Mr Mandelson has voiced hopes that the talks will give the necessary impetus for the WTO's 149 members to reach agreement later this year.

However, Brazil's chief negotiator said there was little hope of securing a comprehensive trade agreement before the summer at the earliest.

"I don't think this meeting was meant to permit a breakthrough" Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said.

The international community is trying to agree key issues ahead of a looming April deadline to agree a "roadmap" for a global trade treaty by early 2007 at the latest.

The London talks will try to build on the limited progress made at December's World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Hong Kong.

Ongoing struggle

In Hong Kong, WTO members agreed to scrap all farm export subsidies by 2013 but struggled to make progress in other key areas.

The EU and US disagree over how far they can go to reduce tariffs on agricultural imports and domestic farm subsidies, a key issue for the world's poorest countries.

Europe, meanwhile, wants substantial reductions in tariffs on manufactured goods and greater priority to be given to liberalising trade in services such as IT, finance and transport.

In an interview with CNBC television he also said Europe was prepared to make further concessions - as long as its demands are met in return.

"We've all put our offers on the table," he said.

"No doubt we might and could and should revisit these offers if there is a good enough incentive to do so. That requires more on the table."

Friday's meeting has been criticised by aid agencies and development groups who argue that the world's poorest countries are being excluded from the discussions.

"At some point, you have to say that the emperor's got no clothes and call the bluff of the rich countries," said Oxfam spokeswoman Amy Barry.

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