LONDON, Nov 8 (Agencies): World Trade Organisation (WTO) heavyweights inched closer to a deal yesterday after hours of talks aimed at salvaging flagging negotiations on a treaty to slash barriers to global commerce.
The European Union appeared to have overcome resistance from powerful developing countries such as India and Brazil to stepping up talks on trade in industrial goods and services, including banking, before controversies are settled in agriculture negotiations.
"I would certainly say there is progress, because we have narrowed our areas of disagreement," India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath said after a meeting in London with counterparts from Brazil, the EU, Japan and the United States.
But the officials steered clear of the details when they spoke jointly to journalists after their talks.
The heavyweights are trying to break a bitter deadlock-particularly over customs duties and subsidies on farm goods-which is holding up the WTO's four-year-old Doha Round negotiations.
The logjam is jeopardising the chances of WTO member states approving an outline deal of a trade accord at their December 13-18 conference in Hong Kong.
Nath hinted that members may have to downgrade goals for Hong Kong, but said that would not affect the overall Doha Round, which trading nations hope to complete in 2006.
Mandelson said Monday's discussions had seen "an intensity and a specificity which was new."
A key plank of the Doha Round, launched in Qatar in 2001, is to use commerce to boost developing countries.
"The acid test of this round is how we can secure the livelihoods, security and rural development needs of most of humanity," said Nath.
An agreement between the trading powers who gathered in London is seen as crucial because they represent many of the diverging interests in the WTO. But all members will have to back any deal they make, since the WTO works by consensus.
Developing countries, which accuse rich nations of using subsidies and tariffs to skew the market against them, have been wary of cuts offered by the US and EU, saying they lack real bite.
The EU has faced the strongest criticism, amid claims that its proposed tariff reductions are too small, but ahead of Monday's talks Mandelson said he would not give ground.
Rich WTO members, particularly the EU, have in turn been trying to up the speed in talks on trade industrial goods and in services.
India and Brazil have opposed that in the past, but the issues were on the table at Monday's meeting-Portman said Mandelson had successfully convinced his negotiating partners to tackle them.
Another report says: Trade ministers must end their "brinkmanship" and make more concessions to save global trade talks, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said in comments published today.
Speaking to Britain's Guardian newspaper, Lamy said time was running out for countries to resolve their differences before 148 member states must approve a blueprint to cut trade barriers in Hong Kong next month.
He said most blocs or countries were still at what he called "Stage One" of talks, indulging in "brinkmanship" and looking to see how much they could take without giving much back.
They must move to "Stage Two" where they will look at what is on the table and make necessary concessions for the good of the trade talks as a whole, Lamy said.
Lamy said all major trading nations or blocs must give ground on agricultural subsidies as well as market access for agricultural goods, industrial products and services companies.
Meanwhile, Singapore message adds: Asia Pacific leaders meeting in South Korea this month are expected to issue a statement aimed at pushing forward floundering global trade talks, an official said Tuesday.