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WTO delegates scramble for last-minute accord

Switzerland's Pascal Couchepin, one the six main negotiators, has his work cut out for him Keystone

Swiss and other delegates to the World Trade Organisation conference in Qatar are trying to reach agreement as Tuesday's deadline looms.

This content was published on November 13, 2001 - 12:09

No accord has been reached on many of the top issues discussed in Doha, which include agriculture, textiles, investment, competition and the environment.

So far, the delegates have only arrived at an agreement on developing nations' access to medications. A final text was adopted on Tuesday, although it was qualified as a political accord rather a legally binding one by the Americans.

The United States, Canada and Switzerland have been fighting any watering down of intellectual property rights, and defending pharmaceutical corporations' research. Countries such as Brazil have demanded access to cheap drugs to fight pandemics.

Couchepin negotiates

Talks on other issues are expected to last most of the day. To avoid a repeat of the failed Seattle conference two years ago, the delegates could opt for a watered-down final declaration.

The six negotiators leading the different workgroups, including Switzerland's economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, have produced a draft declaration which sets out the issues to be discussed in the future and does not commit countries to opening their markets any further.

There is no guarantee the delegates will accept the draft. "It depends on the overall package," said Luzius Wasescha, a senior Swiss negotiator.

While nobody would be satisfied with a half-hearted agreement, it would leave the door open for further talks in Geneva, where the WTO is based. "We need to find solutions that can be integrated into the organisation's work programme," said one Swiss diplomat.

swissinfo with agencies

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