LAHORE, Pakistan, April 18 (Reuters) Leading farm-exporting countries on Wednesday called for swift action to achieve a global free trade deal, saying further delay risked letting the Doha round of talks drag on interminably, or even collapse.
The Cairns Group of 19-member states expressed optimism that an outcome of the negotiations was still achievable, but said discussions should be broadened to involve all members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
''Action is needed now to avoid putting the (Doha) Round at grave risk of drifting indefinitely, or even failing,'' the group said in communique released after the end of the two-day meeting.
The gathering in Pakistan's city of Lahore follows talks in New Delhi last week by the so-called Group of Six (G6) trading powers -- Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.
The G6 breathed a new life into the sluggish process by setting a year-end deadline to clinch a treaty, but several deadlines for a deal have been missed in the past during six years of negotiations in the Doha round.
Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss, who chaired the meeting in Lahore, said the need was to move quickly and try to achieve an outcome as soon as possible.
''To extend the round deep into 2008 would be fraught with danger,'' Truss said at a news briefing, flanked by trade ministers of the member countries.
Negotiations in the Doha round ground to a virtual halt last year as major trading partners, particularly the United States and the European Union, were unable to overcome differences regarding farm subsidies and agriculture tariffs, while developing nations, like India and Brazil, were being pressed to open markets to more manufactured and farm goods.
The hope is negotiators will come up with a treaty that will boost the world economy and reduce poverty through greater trade.
The Cairns Group is pushing for a deeper cut in farm subsidies and tariffs and more market access for their farm products under a ''freer and fairer'' global treaty.
The group comprises Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, the Philippines, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.
''As the members responsible for the greatest distortions in global agriculture trade, the EU, the U.S. and Japan must do much more to give effect to the far-reaching mandate for agriculture reform,'' it said in the communique.
''They must come forward with concrete contributions without delay. The failure to conclude the Doha round would represent a major blow for development, for agriculture trade reform and for the multilateral trade system in general.'' Truss said the group was optimistic that an outcome could still be achieved, as the major players were discussing the issues intensively at bilateral levels, but he added the concerns of the farm-exporting countries must be addressed.
''The members of the Cairns Group believe that now is the time to widen those discussions to involve all of the membership of the WTO,'' Truss said.
REUTERS SRS RK1635