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WTO Talks Need Agenda Agreement

November 14, 1999

GENEVA (AP) _ The head of the World Trade Organization warned Saturday that an upcoming round of free trade talks could fail if the parties don’t agree on an agenda.

The 135 nations have less than two weeks to finalize a draft declaration for a meeting of WTO trade ministers in Seattle beginning Nov. 30.

The declaration is supposed to set out the issues to be discussed in the new round, due to start early next year. Although it will be up to ministers to agree the text, there is no chance of success unless most of it is approved before the start of the Seattle meeting.

``We should be in the final stages of refining texts ... Yet we are still far from this point in a number of key areas,″ WTO Director-General Mike Moore told a meeting of WTO trade ambassadors. ``In some (areas) indeed, I have the impression that delegations have still not really begun to negotiate with each other.″

The biggest sticking point is in the area of agriculture. Countries led by Australia and the United States are calling for the European Union to drop many of its subsidies to farmers because they lead to artificially low prices and mean other producers cannot compete.

The EU and Japan, along with other supporters, say agriculture is a special area and that subsidies are necessary to support rural economies, raise animal welfare standards and protect the environment.

Also controversial is the fact that developing countries do not want to start a new, wide-ranging round of trade-opening talks until they get the benefits they were promised from the previous round.

They say they need more time to carry out some of the promises they made in the last round, and also insist that richer countries should act more quickly to remove trade barriers in sensitive areas, such as textiles. The United States has said it can only agree to do that as part of negotiations in the next round.

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