Vol. 4 Num 237 Sat. January 24, 2004  

WTO chief sees enough time to complete trade talks

The head of the World Trade Organisation, Supachai Panitchpakdi, said Friday there was "more than enough time" to complete deadlocked global trade talks by their end-of-year deadline.

"I guess if political will is there, if people do as they say they are going to do and give instructions to the Geneva people, we would have more than enough time to finish," Supachai said as he entered a meeting to help relaunch the talks.

The meeting, of 20 trade ministers on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in Davos, came amid a growing effort to bridge divisions between rich and poor countries following the collapse of the trade liberalisation round last September.

Since the breakdown at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico, many countries have warned that they will miss the December 31, 2004 deadline for their effort to reduce world trade barriers.

Friday's gathering in the Swiss ski resort comes on the back of high-level talks in Bangladesh at the weekend, where the European Union's chief trade negotiator Pascal Lamy said the round should restart after March or April.

The talks launched in November 2001 in the Qatari capital Doha, have ground to a near-halt amid bickering over cross-border investment and competition.

That added to a more fundamental dispute over farm subsidies in richer countries and the high tariffs on agricultural exports from poorer nations.

Since September, the WTO director-general has held talks with individual countries to try to negotiate a way forward.