DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 28 (AFP): An informal meeting of around 25 ministers representing a cross-section of World Trade Organisation members began yesterday to map out the next steps in tense global trade talks.
The Swiss economics ministry, which organised the meeting, said it was due to end Saturday morning after a business dinner late Friday.
Key actors such as the United States, Brazil, the European Union, India and WTO Director General Pascal Lamy were due to take part.
The meeting has been billed as an attempt to identify which steps are necessary ahead of an end-2006 deadline for completion of the troubled Doha round set at a full WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong last month.
Ministers in Davos played down expectations of anything more than decisions on process, after holding a series of bilateral meetings in and around the World Economic Forum at this Swiss mountain resort
"I did not expect and do not expect change in Davos," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
"What we have to do is consolidate what we had in Hong Kong, not to allow any backpedalling," he told journalists.
The Hong Kong conference concluded December 18 with an agreement on an end-date of 2013 to remove farm export subsidies, a swift end to cotton subsidies and the opening of rich country markets to more goods from the world's poorest nations.
But the 149 trading nations still failed to achieve the full framework for the Doha Round, leaving out core issues such as cuts in agricultural tariffs and opening up commerce in services and industrial goods.
Another report says: Russia secured one more step on its path to World Trade Organisation membership yesterday by securing a bilateral deal with Switzerland, while another accord in India was in the offing, senior officials said.
Russia is aiming to join the 149-member Geneva-based trade body in 2006 and such deals with individual members on specific economic sectors that concern them are one part of the accession process.
Swiss Economics Minister Joseph Deiss and Russian trade minister German Gref wrapped up their bilateral agreement on the fringe of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Swiss economics ministry said in a statement.
Meanwhile, India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told newsmen that he expected to conclude a similar deal with his Russian counterpart in February.
"We are giving them the WTO accession. India is signing the agreement for Russia's accession to the WTO," he said in Davos.
A handful of other bilateral deals are still outstanding for Russia, notably with the United States.
The Swiss deal includes an accord on services under which Russia will grant a "market access guarantee" for insurance and banking, and liberalised cross-border reinsurance services after a transition period, the statement said.
However, Russia will not in principle authorise foreign companies, especially in financial services, transport or hotels and travel agencies, to provide services through their subsidiaries.
A foreign service company will only be able to establish itself in the Russian market if it creates an independent company under Russian law.
Russia will also lift customs duties on information technology products, the statement said.