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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK

Business: The Economy

WTO talks start

Ministers hope to fix an agenda for the Seattle trade talks

Trade ministers meet in Switzerland on Monday to hammer out an agenda for the next round of World Trade Organisation talks.

Members need to find common ground before they meet officially in Seattle on 30 November for what is termed the "Millennium round" of trade talks.

There have been fears that arguments over what should be on the agenda would stall the trade talks.

The European Union ( EU) would like issues like investment and competition discussed at the trade talks, while the USA wants to stick to agriculture and services.

These differences are to be discussed at the meeting which starts in Lausanne on Monday.

Weeks of wrangling

The 15 European Union governments ended weeks of wrangling on Friday when they agreed their negotiating position.

The EU hopes the Seattle meeting will launch a comprehensive new "Millennium" round of trade liberalisation talks, covering agriculture, services, industrial tariffs as well as global investment and competition rules.

One of the more contentious issues is whether the WTO should enforce labour rights. The EU calls for the creation of a joint International Labour Organisation/ WTO working committee on labour standards.

Many countries are looking for the EU to scrap its complex system of subsidies for farmers, an area which the EU says it is prepared to make concessions.

US officials also want WTO members to agree to talks on reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers in the industrial sector. They want tariffs reduced in areas such as chemicals, toys and forestry products.

Trade relationships

The European Union and the United States are the two largest economies in the world. Together, they account for about half of the world economy.

The EU and the US also have the biggest bilateral trade and investment relationship.

Transatlantic flows of trade and investment amount to around $1bn a day, and jointly, EU/US global trade accounts for almost 40% of total world trade.

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