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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 18:48 GMT 19:48 UK
WTO moving closer to trade deal
US trade representative Rob Portman
WTO officials have said they can see a way to reach an agreement
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is moving closer to a global trade deal, but greater flexibility and concessions are needed, top officials have said.

WTO trade ministers are in Geneva this week hoping to revive the ongoing Doha round of talks that have stalled over problem areas such as agriculture.

Poorer nations want greater access to richer markets, while the US and Europe are fighting over subsidy levels.

US trade chief Rob Portman said the sides are now "relatively close".

However, added the outgoing US representative in a joint statement with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile: "We now have a short time to make necessary breakthroughs.

"To take this round forward we urgently need flexibility on all sides."

'Outstanding differences'

The US and the European Union have disagreed over the extent to which they should reduce the levels of support they offer their own farmers, and the import tariffs they put on food and other agricultural products from the developing world.

Mr Portman, who has been accompanied by his successor Susan Schwab, said that the EU has indicated that it is "prepared to strengthen its offer on agricultural market access".

"This has been and will continue to be the key to resolving outstanding differences," he added.

Celso Amorim, Brazil's Foreign Minister and the leader of the G20 group of developing nations, said a lot would depend on how much the EU would offer to cut its farm import tariffs.

EU Trade commissioner Peter Mandelson had earlier said that the US was not willing to match the EU and was "demanding completely unrealistic tariff reductions in agriculture".

Accusations of intransigence have come from all sides and there have been growing concerns that the Doha round of talks- which was meant to be finished by 2004 - will fail to produce an agreement.

US negotiating authority to agree a deal in Congress expires in July 2007.

On Monday, WTO boss Pascal Lamy said a deal was still possible and called for all nations to do their utmost to end the logjam.

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