Washington, Dec 10 (Agencies): A breakthrough in stalled world trade talks is possible early in 2006 if countries can agree this week on basic "building blocks" of a final deal, the top US trade negotiator said yesterday.
Negotiators need to make incremental progress towards expanding trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services at the Dec 13-18 World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong, US Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters.
"I do think the building blocks are there to have an agreement," Portman said.
If negotiators make even modest progress in Hong Kong, "I think pressure will mount ... it's more likely that we can see that breakthrough coming after the first of the year," he said.
Leading industrialised countries and advanced developing countries also have to agree on an assistance package to give 49 least-developed countries more market access and to boost their ability to engage in trade, Portman said.
But he stressed that the plan could not be implemented until the nearly 150 members of the WTO reach a final world trade deal.
"In other words, if the Doha Round is not successful, (if) we can't come together with agreements on market access opening, removing trade-distorting supports and so on, there will not be a development package," Portman said.
An important component of the package would be an initiative giving the 49 countries unrestricted access to rich and major developing country markets for practically all of their goods.
But countries could exclude some sensitive products, such as textiles in the case of the United States, Portman said.
Japan announced Friday it would provide $10 billion in trade-related aid to least-developed countries over the next three years.
Portman said the United States had increased funding for trade "capacity-building" projects to about $1.3 billion in the current budget year, which he said was up 45 per cent from 2004, and would have more to say on that issue in Hong Kong.
Many poor countries, which lack the infrastructure or the expertise to engage in world trade, are worried they might not benefit much from an agreement opening new markets around the globe. WTO rules require all members sign off on any deal, giving rich countries an incentive to ensure that the trade body's poorest members are satisfied.
The EU, which is under pressure to offer deeper cuts in its farm tariffs, has complained that major developing countries such as Brazil and India have yet to put forward serious offers to open their services and goods markets to more trade.
Meanwhile The World Trade Organisation (WTO) meets here this week with hopes fading fast of salvaging a deal to liberalise global trade blocked by an EU and US impasse on farm subsidies.
Having agreed to disagree in a series of preparatory talks on an overall trade accord ahead of the conference, the tone has become more combative as the meeting draws near and expectations have been progressively downgraded.
The aim now is at best to secure some sort of deal to help the less developed countries, with another series of negotiations on the Doha Round pencilled in for next year when they must be concluded without fail.
So far, the main protagonists-the European Union, the United States, India, Brazil and Japan-have come up with a series of seemingly reasonable proposals but which usually require their partners to take the plunge first.
The result is that there has not been enough progress on an accord whereby the developed world would open up its agriculture markets in return for free access in the developing world for its industrial goods and services.
Against that backdrop, it may be time to get your retaliation in first, with the European Union, tagged as the main obstacle to farm trade liberalisation by the United States, mincing no words.
As the rhetoric heats up, the unenviable task of holding the ring while the heavyweights slug it out and the smaller parties try to keep out of harm's way falls to Hong Kong industry chief John Tsang.
Another message adds: Emergency services were on high alert with police out in force patrolling on land and at sea today, a day before the first scheduled protest against next week's World Trade Organisation summit here.
Police said they were mounting their biggest operation ever as the first of what is expected to be some 10,000 protesters began flooding into the city.
An estimated 9,000 police officers will be on duty during the sixth WTO ministerial summit, which opens Tuesday and wraps up on December 18.
Three large demonstrations are planned during the meet, the first of which was scheduled for Sunday afternoon with a march from the city's downtown Victoria Park to government offices near the summit venue in Wanchai.
Others are planned for Tuesday and the following Sunday.
According to press reports, police have received intelligence suggesting troublemakers are planning to storm a steel ring of security placed around the convention and exhibition centre, where the meeting will be held.
Police have stepped up patrols in and around the convention centre which is bounded on three sides by the territory's famous harbour.
An exclusion zone that extends some 300 metres out into the harbour has been set up around the centre, while police frogmen have been checking the abutting sea walls and jetties for bombs.