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Swiss condemns breakaway talks at WTO

Switzerland's Economy Minister Doris Leuthard protests against a breakaway meeting of seven leading powers during crucial WTO trade talks in Geneva.

world Updated: Jul 24, 2008 15:22 IST

Switzerland's Economy Minister Doris Leuthard protested on Thursday against a breakaway meeting of seven leading powers during crucial WTO trade talks in Geneva.

Ministers from 35 key countries are meeting this week in a bid to break an impasse to the so-called Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations, which have foundered for the past seven years.

But with progress slow to come, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy broke up the ministerial meeting to a smaller group in the hopes that it could jolt talks forward.

On Wednesday, ministers from the United States, European Union, Japan, India, Brazil, Australia and China, the so-called G6+1 group, convened in an meeting and stayed locked in talks until the early hours of Thursday morning.

"By doing so, you have put many of us ministers in the waiting room -- which creates political problems for me at home becuase I am not able to defend fully the Swiss interests and many of the G10 colleagues are in the same situation," Leuthard told a meeting of 153 member states on Thursday.

The G10 is a group of net importers of farm products.

She also challenged the composition of the small group, saying that it "does not reflect the interests and sensitivities of many countries in particular the ones of the smaller G10 countries like me".

"This is very difficult for me to accept," she said.

In addition, topics that were not meant to have been discussed at this stage, but which were sensitive to Switzerland were raised during the session, she said.

"This is unacceptable."

One such topic was the so-called capping issue, which was a ceiling on agricultural import tariffs applied by countries, she said.

Switzerland has significant agriculture interests, as it applies high import tariffs on farm products to protect its domestic production.

She urged WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy to end the meeting of small group and to revert to a broader ministerial meeting.

"At this very critical phase of the negotiations utmost attention must be given to the comfort all members need and it is of crucial importance to ensure a strong political ownership of the results," she said.