Developing nations divided for new global trade deal

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Geneva, Nov 13: Developing countries are deeply divided about how to advance troubled talks over a new global trade deal, and few ministers will attend a meeting this week meant to show their unity, diplomats said.

Brazil invited nearly 30 top officials from emerging nations to Geneva to discuss next steps for the six-year-old Doha round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks, which are mired in tensions between rich and poor countries.

Ministers from India, South Africa, Indonesia, Paraguay, Tanzania, Uruguay, along with vice-ministers from Cuba and Ecuador, will participate, but most members of the Group of 20 or ''G20'' developing-power negotiating block are not sending ministers to the session on Thursday.

The meeting is to be hosted by Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

Trade insiders said on Monday the absence of key players including Mexico, Chile and Peru reflected a growing rift among developing powers in the talks, particularly over the extent to which industrial goods markets should be opened to more competition.

Several negotiators said the disparate viewpoints in the talks, where diplomats have struggled to agree on even minor issues, meant little may be achieved in such a high-level forum.

''There is a sense that nothing can be accomplished there,'' one developing country diplomat said.

Though poorer nations have mainly stood together in talks in agriculture, calling on rich nations to cut price-distorting subsidies and tariffs, they have been at odds in parallel negotiations over manufacturing.

Little Progress

Canadian WTO ambassador Don Stephenson, who chairs the industrial goods talks, said last week that several weeks of intensive talks had yielded ''little progress on all fronts.'' Many developing countries want the right to shield more of their sensitive markets from tariff-ceiling cuts in a Doha accord, which requires consensus among the WTO's 151 member states to be clinched. Others, including Pakistan and Thailand, are opposed to such exclusions, according to sources familiar with the closed-door talks.

Both Stephenson and his counterpart in agricultural goods -- New Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer -- have said that ministers would need to intervene for any substantive breakthrough in the negotiations to occur soon.

No high-level meeting has been scheduled to accomplish this, despite a push from WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to wrap up the bulk of a Doha deal in 2007, before the U.S. presidential election makes it hard for Washington to negotiate.

Lamy wants to see the more peripheral topics in the talks resolved before he calls ministers to Geneva to tackle the most politically-sensitive issues, such as the size of subsidy and tariff cuts in manufacturing and farming, a trade official said.

''You can't have 25 unresolved issues in agriculture, a lot of them technical, and bring ministers here to settle them,'' the official said.

The Doha talks, named after the Qatari capital where they were launched in 2001, are meant to boost trade flows and help poor-country producers export more. The World Bank has estimated a pact could add $96 billion to the global economy every year.


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