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Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:58 GMT
World trade talks stalled

Demonstrators stopped trade talks in Seattle in December Demonstrators stopped trade talks in Seattle in December

Hopes of restarting a new round of world trade talks appear to be fading.

The battle for free trade
The head of the World Trade Organisation, Mike Moore, says that no progress has been made on restarting the talks that are aimed at further liberalisation of world trade.

The talks collapsed in Seattle in December amid mass demonstrations by unions and environmental activists, and disagreements between the United States, Europe and developing countries over what should be on the agenda.

Those who wanted social issues still want social issues
Mike Moore, WTO head
"I want a new round as soon as possible," Mr Moore told a press breakfast before meeting with members of the European Commission.

"But I have yet to see movement of a substantial nature and cannot say we are any closer than we were before."

WTO head Mike Moore Mike Moore: no progress so far
Mr Moore is spending the week meeting key policy makers in Europe and America. He will be flying to Washington on Wednesday for talks with US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky. Last week he visited India and Japan in an attempt to garner support for the so-called 'Millennium' trade round.

Fundamental disagreements

Although the world's major economic powers - including Japan, Canada, the EU and the USA - all say they want to resume the trade talks, there are still fundamental disagreements on what they should cover.

A fundamental disagreement over child labour
The United States wants to be able to impose trade sanctions on countries that violate labour standards, especially concerning child labour, which is opposed by many developing countries.

"Those who wanted social issues still want social issues," Mr Moore said. "A certain number of members do not want reform."

India in particular has made it clear it would rather not restart the trade talks if they are going to include labour issues.

Hope in Bangkok

There are hopes that progress on the trade talks might come in a series of meetings scheduled over the next few weeks.

Mr Moore will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January, where many world business leaders mingle with policy makers.

And later in February, developing countries meeting at the Unctad summit in Bangkok are expected to debate the way forward on the trade talks.

Rubens Ricupero, Unctad's Secretary General, has been promoting the meeting on February 12-17 as a "world parliament on globalisation" that is urgently needed after the failure in Seattle.

He says the summit "will offer governments a timely opportunity for an orderly debate, in a non-confrontational climate, about solutions to the problems created by globalisation."

The Bangkok meeting will be attended both by Mr Moore and his bitter rival for the WTO leadership, Supachai Panitchpakdi,

Thailand's trade minister who will be taking over from Mr Moore as WTO boss in 2002.

The Millennium Round would be the eighth round of world trade talks since the WTO was set up (then called GATT) in l947.

Since then, trade liberalisation has reduced tariffs on industrial products dramatically, spurring export growth and helping countries like Japan and Korea become industrial giants.

But the last round of trade talks, the Uruguay Round, ended in bitterness after the United States tried to force through the abolition of agricultural price supports against the fierce opposition of the European Union.

Biotech wrangle

Further sectoral talks on agriculture and services are still scheduled to begin this year under the terms of the Uruguay agreement.

GM corn The import of GM crops is increasingly controversial
But the EU would like to ensure that talks on the regulation of genetically modified food take place in another forum, the UN's biosafety protocol, which meets next week iin Montreal.

There, worries about potential health risks would take precedence over commercial considerations.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the EU was determined to press its case.

"The international community must demonstrate that it takes the concerns of the citizens on health safety seriously," Ms Wallstrom said.

"The Commission believes the conclusion of the protocol is an absolute priority The negotiations are going to be very difficult ... we'll need a lot of goodwill to come to a final agreement."

A conference last February in Cartagena, Colombia, broke up without agreement after the U.S.-led "Miami Group", which includes Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia and Chile, refused to accept EU demands for labelling of GM commodities.

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See also:
25 Dec 99 |  Business
Body blow for free trade
04 Dec 99 |  Battle for Free Trade
WTO tarnished by Seattle failure
02 Dec 99 |  Business
EU makes biotech concessions
13 Jan 00 |  Business
US battle over China intensifies

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