World Trade Reps Look to Break Impasse, Restart WTO Talks

Developing nations were calling on rich countries to restart global trade talks, as trade representatives from United States, Europe and Japan joined a meeting of ministers from emerging economies.

The two-day gathering of the Group of 20 developing nations in Rio marks the first time international trade officials have met since the Doha Round of World Trade Organization talks stalled in July over the question of rich nations' subsidies for agriculture.

Developing nations are warning that the suspension of negotiations not only threatens the current round of discussions but also the multilateral trading system itself.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab on Sunday said President George W. Bush hasn't given up on the Doha Round.

"President Bush is committed to a successful outcome for the Doha Round and we will do what it takes," Schwab said. "If there is the potential for a successful Round we will find it."

On Saturday, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said successful trade negotiations would help preserve international order and have implications in the fight against terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear contraband and organized crime.

"It's not just trade that's at stake, but the whole world order," Amorin said at the end of a day of meetings between G-20 ministers.

On Sunday, the ministers from developing countries planned to meet with Schwab, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, WTO chief Pascal Lamy and Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa.

But few here believe much progress is possible, at least before U.S. congressional elections in November.

Schwab denied the talks hinged on the Nov. 7 vote.

"Our Congressional election is really not going have an impact on this round, we always knew that if we had a Doha Round agreement, the next Congress would be the one dealing with it," she said. "My guess is we've got several months ahead of where we need to find out: Is there a convergence between the key players?"

G-20 ministers meet again at the end of October or beginning of November in Geneva.

"It will be a meeting where we can reflect on the whole process," Amorim said.

Developing nations are demanding greater market access for their agricultural products while developed nations complain of barriers in emerging markets for their goods and services.

The G-20 issued a statement Saturday indicating developing nations were unlikely to back off their demands that developed nations do away with subsidies and tariff barriers for their farm products.

"Most of the world's poor make their living out of agriculture. Their livelihood and standards of living are seriously jeopardized by subsidies and market-access barriers prevailing in international agricultural trade," the group said in the statement.

Powerful farm lobbies in the U.S., Europe and Japan, however, strongly oppose an end to subsidies, a move they fear would leave them unable to compete with the flood of cheap imports.

The entire process is rapidly running out of time because Bush's authority to "fast track" the trade deal — enabling U.S. envoys to negotiate an agreement that can be submitted to Congress for a yes-or-no vote without amendments — runs out in mid-2007.

Days after the G-20 meeting, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will host the heads of states of India and South Africa in Brasilia to discuss strengthening economic links between those countries and South America's Mercosur bloc — made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The G-20 was formed in 2003 with Brazil as one of its leading member nations. The other members are Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, the Philippines, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, South Africa, Thailand, Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.