Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Sunday, 20 July 2008 13:44 UK

Fresh push in global trade talks

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A deal could boost the world economy by $100bn a year, the WTO says

Negotiators from more than 30 countries will meet in Geneva on Monday to inject fresh impetus into long-running efforts to agree a global trade deal.

Discussions have so far foundered over the extent of acceptable cuts to farm subsidies and how far trade in services such as banking should be liberalised.

US officials are desperate to finalise a deal before President George W Bush leaves office in January.

Supporters say a deal could boost the world economy by up to $100bn a year.

Sticking points

But sceptics say any agreement is unlikely to fully address distortions and inequalities in trading relationships between the world's richest and poorest countries.

Officials from the US, EU and emerging economic powers such as China, India and Brazil are under fierce pressure to try and reach agreement before the end of the year.

With a new US president coming into office early in 2009, observers believe countries need to capitalise on existing momentum to obtain a deal before then.

There is a lot of work to do on all sides
Jose Manuel Barroso

Chief US trade negotiator Susan Schwab has said she believes a historic deal in the coming days is "doable".

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the talks were "perhaps the last great opportunity" to achieve a deal.

But he added: "There is a lot of work to do on all sides."

But huge obstacles remain in the way of agreement, with little progress made on the key sticking points in recent months.

Several European nations, including France and Ireland, have warned that the EU is giving away too much ground in negotiations over proposed cuts to agricultural subsidies sought by developing countries.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last month that "conditions" were not right for a deal.

At the same time, the EU and US have become frustrated by the slow rate of progress in efforts to open up overseas markets to trade in business services and non-manufactured goods such as retail and insurance.

A question of politics?

Under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, officials will discuss draft texts on agriculture and non-farm goods - seen as the blueprint for a comprehensive deal - which were first released last summer.

Ahead of the meeting, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he was keen to negotiate and was hopeful of an agreement that could give "poor nations better opportunities in international trade".

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The arguments over agricultural subsidies

Experts said the hurdles to be overcome were now essentially political rather than technical.

"The details of the agreement are known," said David Hartridge, a former deputy director of the WTO.

"The question is whether governments are now ready to move on the political field."


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