Ministers agree to step up bid to trade deal
Trade ministers meeting in the Swiss resort of Davos say they hope to break the deadlock over a global free-trade accord and strike a deal in 2006.
They said agreement had been reached on a timetable for a deal on lowering barriers in major areas of the global economy.
Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss, who hosted the informal meeting of ministers from about 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members, said he was optimistic that the latest round of talks on trade liberalisation could be concluded by the end of this year.
“We have a precise timetable which will allow us to measure progress. There is also a strong commitment to push ahead and conclude the talks based on the meeting in Hong Kong in December,” Deiss told a news conference on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting on Saturday.
However, he was adamant that a lot of work still lay ahead for WTO members.
“We have just reached the beginning of the final stage. But flexibility and a willingness to compromise is crucial for a successful conclusion of the trade deal,” he added.
WTO director-general Pascal Lamy said 40 per cent of work still remained to be done to wrap up the latest round of trade liberalisation negotiations.
The European Union trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, was quoted as saying that he felt encouraged by the latest discussions in the Swiss alpine resort.
There were also signs of more understanding between the EU, the United States and developing countries such as Brazil, which were blaming each other for a lack of progress.
However, the Swiss non-governmental Berne Declaration group criticised the informal gathering in Davos. It said such meetings undermined the position of developing countries.
The round-table gathering was the first ministerial meeting since a conference in Hong Kong last December.
It had ended without adoption of a draft deal, including all the major political decisions on market opening in farm and industrial goods and services.
Meanwhile an estimated 1,500 anti-globalisation demonstrators took to the streets of the northern Swiss city of Basel to protest against the WEF summit.
A small demonstration was also held in Davos.
Massive police forces were deployed at the rallies which passed off without any major incident.
In previous years anti-globalisation protests had been marked by clashes between demonstrators and security forces.
swissinfo with agencies
Ministers from about 20 WTO member countries met on the sidelines of the annual World Economic Forum session in Davos.
Among the participants were representatives from the US, the EU, Brazil, Japan, India and Australia.
The meeting, organised by the Swiss economics ministry, was aimed at defining a timetable for the conclusion of the Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks.
The 149 WTO members are trying to conclude the so-called Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks, launched in 2001.
It is hoped that the latest push to boost free trade will be wrapped up by the end of the year and ratified before June 2007.
In December, a WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong pledged to prepare a draft on agricultural issues by April.
Switzerland is keen to see customs hurdles removed for industry and liberalisation in the services sector, but is reluctant to introduce bigger cuts to farm subsidies.
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