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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 22:14 GMT

Business: The Economy

Trade talks deadlocked

Seattle is the setting for the next world trade round

Moves to liberalise world trade appear to have stalled before they have begun, with deep divisions among the world's trading blocs.

That is the bleak assessment of the European Union, with just 12 days to go before the launch of a new trade round in Seattle.

[ image: MIke Moore, new WTO head, faces a difficult task]
MIke Moore, new WTO head, faces a difficult task
Finnish Trade Minister Kimmo Sasi told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that after three months of preparations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, there was still no agreement on the agenda.

"I have to admit that the situation in Geneva is very difficult indeed at the moment. There are many differences in opinion on the main questions of the negotiations," he said.

He admitted that despite the EU best efforts, many basic questions would now have to be decided during the meeting in Seattle itself.

"It is our intention to bring about a declaration that has as few open (undecided) points as possible. I think, however, that there are many solutions that only can be made in the (Seattle) ministerial meeting," he said.

The Millennium round

Trade ministers from around the world are due to gather on 30 November to launch a new trade round.

World trade has been the engine of economic growth in the post-war years, but moves to liberalise trade have become more difficult as issues like the environment and food saftey come to prominence.

The United States and many developing countries would like the trade talks to focus on further liberalisation of agriculture.

But the EU, which has already been forced to change its system of agricultural subsidies, wants a broader trade agenda which includes investment, environmental protection, and labour standards.

The trade talks have received a boost from the agreeement between China and the United States which clears the way for China, the world's ninth largest exporter, to become a member of the WTO.

In return, it has agreed to open its markets further to Western trade and investment.

UK hopes

Meanwhile, the UK government has also set out its hopes for the trade round.

Stephen Byers, the Trade Secretary said that the UK would back trade liberalisation which would benefit rich and poor countries alike.

"As we prepare for Seattle, we need to be clear that protectionism anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Closing off national economies only increases national and international instability. Across the world it is the poorest and most vulnerable people who will suffer," he said.

The UK delegation to the trade talks, headed by Mr Byers, will include a representative of non-governmental organisations for the first time ever, he announced.

Thousands of activists concerned about the environment, child labour and third world development are expected to gather in Seattle to protest the meeting.

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