WTO ministers meet in Switzerland to prepare trade talks

Ministers from 23 countries and the European Union met in Switzerland Monday, with the chairman, Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin (left), warning that a key World Trade Organisation meeting next month could end in failure.

This content was published on October 25, 1999 - 18:00

Ministers from 23 countries and the European Union met in Switzerland Monday, with the chairman, Swiss Economics Minister Pascal Couchepin (left), warning that a key World Trade Organisation meeting next month could end in failure.

The two-day informal meeting in the city of Lausanne brings together the so-called "Friends of the Round" -- nations who are enthusiastic about starting a new round of negotiations to free global trade. Among those attending are U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, as well as WTO Director-General Mike Moore (right).

Couchepin, who is chairing the meeting, told reporters that it was important to settle differences quickly.

"It isn't impossible that Seattle will be a failure," he said. "The differences are clear. Now we have to work for agreement."

The WTO talks are aimed at removing barriers to free trade, such as import tariffs, quotas and subsidies for domestic producers. Anti-dumping measures, competition, investments and access to markets will also be on the agenda.

The United States and the European Union – the world’s two biggest trading powers – are still deeply divided over how far, and which way, the new round of world trade liberalisation, known as the Millennium round, should actually go.

Interests diverge, for instance, in the agriculture sector: The United States and several other nations have been pushing for the phasing out of all subsidies within a few years but the European Union, Japan and Switzerland have categorically rejected the idea.

The European Union’s ambassador to the WTO, Roderick Abbot, says agriculture cannot be deregulated the same way as trade in goods and services.

The United States in turn rejects a proposal by the European Union to expand trade liberalisation talks to almost all industry sectors. Washington wants to reduce negotiations to a few areas, such as telecommunications, audiovisuals and electronic trading, where the United States has traditionally had a strong position.

From staff and wire reports.

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