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EU and India hope for key trade meeting soon

As per the EU & India's top trade negotiators, ministers could meet soon to seek a breakthrough in global trade talks, but positions are far apart for them to meet now.
Reuters | By Adrian Croft, London
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2008 12:16 PM IST

The European Union and India's top trade negotiators said on Friday they hoped ministers could meet soon to seek a breakthrough in global trade talks, but said positions were too far apart for them to meet now.

"I hope the WTO (World Trade Organisation) ministerial meeting is held in April, when the number of points of disagreement are lessened," Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath told Reuters after talks in London with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.

"At the moment, just in agriculture, they have 130 (disagreements). You can't sit in a ministerial with 130. These must be brought down to 15 or so for ministers to sit down and take a decision," Nath said.

"They are intensively negotiating and this is an important window of opportunity," he said.

India, as one of the biggest emerging market economies, is an influential player in the Doha trade round.

Mandelson said he hoped "in the coming month or so it will be possible to make the progress required in Geneva for a ministerial meeting to take place. We're not there yet, but it is doable".

"A successful outcome is not going to drop into our laps. We have to do it for ourselves," he said at a joint news conference with Nath.

The two men discussed the global trade talks and the state of negotiations between the EU and India on a trade and investment agreement.

In the global talks, the WTO is struggling to balance demands from rich countries, which are calling for greater access to developing world markets, and poor nations, which want lower US farm subsidies and an end to European barriers.

The WTO has been hoping to call trade ministers to Geneva in late March or April for a meeting that might produce a breakthrough after more than six years of talks.

Warning to EU and US

Nath said all countries' sensitivities must be respected in the trade talks and he fired a shot across the bows of the United States and 27-nation European Union, implying their demands could undermine poor countries' economies.

"Unless there is respect of sensitivities of all countries, we are not going to see convergence," he told Reuters, citing sensitivities on development and subsistence farming.

"The EU and the US must understand that it is necessary in their own interest to have healthy economies in Asia and Africa. That is better than any kind of tariff reduction," he said.

Mandelson said his greatest concern in the trade talks was over industrial goods, saying it had always been understood there had to be real cuts in import tariffs on industrial goods.

"If we surround our commitments with so many exceptions and flexibilities, we will end up emptying this part of the negotiation of its content, of its value," he said.

On the slow-moving negotiations on an EU-India trade agreement, under way since 2006, Nath said more work was needed, but voiced optimism there would be "substantial progress" by year-end. Mandelson said the talks were "inching forwards".

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