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Trade powers fail to remove obstacles to WTO deal

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Mar 11 (Reuters) Six top economic powers made little headway on Saturday in overcoming long-standing obstacles to a global trade deal, but stressed their commitment to reaching a deal on farm and industrial goods by end-April.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the ''click'' needed to achieve a breakthrough in World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations was still not there after two days of talks hosted by European Union trade chief Peter Mandelson.

Mandelson, who is under pressure to give ground on agricultural tariffs, struck a more upbeat note saying that the six had made progress in a number of areas, though he declined to give details.

''We have had a good meeting so far, testing both the possibilities and limitations of these negotiations,'' he told reporters.

The WTO's 149 member states are racing to meet the April deadline they set in Hong Kong last December for a draft accord on agriculture and industrial goods, two of the most contentious areas, as a key step towards a full trade treaty by early 2007.

The WTO's Doha round, launched in 2001, aims to boost the global economy and lift millions out of poverty.

The EU, the United States, Brazil, India, Australia and Japan, representing a range of trading interests, have taken the lead in trying to overcome deep differences, notably over the size of EU farm tariff cuts and what market opening developing states like Brazil and India should offer in manufacturing.

''I think that the click is not yet there to have a deal,'' Amorim told a news conference before the ministers' dinner.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, who faces calls to offer more cuts in U.S. farm subsidies, echoed Amorim's view that there had been no significant narrowing of positions.

But he said that a clearer view was emerging of where the necessary trade-offs for a pact lay, and that he remained optimistic that a deal would eventually be struck.

''It may not look pretty,'' he said, referring to the state of the talks. ''(But) I believe we will get there.'' ''It is not easy. This involves billions and billions of dollars,'' Portman said of the difficult political decisions still to be taken.

Several deadlines for the Doha round have already been missed but negotiators say it risks complete collapse if a deal is not reached soon because U.S. President George W. Bush loses ''fast-track'' powers to approve trade deals in mid-2007.

To get the small print of a deal ready by then, the main points must be settled soon, the negotiators say.

Reuters OM VP0355

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