WTO still aims to complete Doha round of talks in 2006

WTO members are aiming to complete the Doha round of trade liberalization talks by the end of 2006 despite a scaling-back of ambitions for a year-end summit in Hong Kong, the head of the body said Thursday. Disagreements, focused on access to the European Union's farm market, prevented progress at meetings this week in London and Geneva, but World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy said that member states need to "recreate a negotiating spirit."

The WTO's 148 members might have to meet again early next year because ministers look unlikely to make the progress they had hoped for in Hong Kong, which aims to resolve many of the issues that have been blocking the Doha round of trade talks - named for the Qatari capital where it was launched in 2001.

The final treaty, when completed, would be binding on all WTO members, which is why it provokes such high emotion among negotiators. The end-2006 deadline is already well behind the original aim of December 2004.

"It is my sense that nobody wants to reduce the (ultimate target)," Lamy said. "This, in itself, is proof that there is a will - and where there is a will there is a way. We just have to find that way."

Ministers had gathered this week for a series of talks meant to force a breakthrough in the talks, which have reached a stalemate, but they dispersed little further along than when they gathered Monday. Many said that objectives for Hong Kong had to be brought down to a more realistic level than the previous aim of agreeing a framework and formula for how to cut tariffs and subsidies, the AP reports.

The most likely outcome is that all parties will lower their expectations so they can still come to an agreement at next month's meeting, thereby delaying the most difficult concessions until next year, said Philippe de Pontet, an analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington. A.M.

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