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Progress seen on patents, anti-dumping as WTO talks intensify

DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ The United States and Switzerland edged closer Monday to agreement with developing countries demanding more leeway to override drug patents for health emergencies, one of the thorniest issues threatening to block new global trade talks.

On the fourth day of the five-day World Trade Organization meeting, movement was also reported on another hot-button issue for Washington: tightening anti-dumping rules, which are used to block imports sold below the market price _ usually because of subsidies.

The United States is one of the biggest user of anti-dumping actions, often against steel and textile imports from developing countries.

Under pressure from Congress, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick has insisted that any talks on tightening the rules include disciplining the underlying ``unfair trade practices'' they are meant to counter.

Japanese foreign ministry official Shinichi Kitajima said ``new wording'' was being discussed that could ``accomodate in one way or another the view expressed by the American delegation.'' He refused to elaborate.

Japan is one of the countries pushing for new negotiations on anti-dumping rules.

Progress on the drug patents issue ``seems to be going well ... the indications are good,'' said Luis Felipe de Feixas Correa, deputy minister of foreign relations from Brazil.

A senior U.S. trade official said there was ``much more convergence'' on the language of a proposed declaration on drugs to be adopted by the World Trade Organization's 142 member countries.

Brazil and India, which have large generic drug industries, are leading the push for a declaration that patent rights won't block poor countries from responding to AIDS and other health crises.

The United States and Switzerland, worried about undermining their own pharmaceutical industries, are loathe to alter the WTO's intellectual property agreement.

Rich countries hope to come away from the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting Tuesday with agreement on launching new trade talks, which they argue would give the faltering world economy a much-needed confidence boost.

Developing countries are demanding more market access for their textiles and agriculture products and recognition that some past pledges of help have yet to be fulfilled.

No movement has been seen yet on the difficult issue of agricultural subsidies.

The European Union wants to keep farm export subsidies, but is under tough pressure from the United States and 18 big exporting countries known as the Cairns Group that want them phased out.

France, whose farmers get the lion's share of the EU's farm budget, was said to be increasingly isolated in its insistence on conceding nothing in agriculture.

``It is quite true that there is pressure on France, in that agriculture cannot be the issue that will let the conference fail,'' said Finnish Foreign Trade Minister Kimmo Sasi

French Trade Minister Francois Huwart said he would find it ``astonishing'' if the 15-nation EU changed its common negotiating position.

Many EU nations are reportedly prepared to concede ground over export subsidies in return for the inclusion of negotiations aimed at protecting the environment.

But developing countries in particular are refusing to consider that, claiming such issues are protectionism by richer nations.

``We are not able to accept negotiations on the environment,'' Ana Maria Solares Gaite, Bolivia's vice minister of international economic relations, told The Associated Press.

She added that Bolivia, a member of the Cairns Group, might be prepared to agree to eventual negotiations on rules governning investment and competition policies, another key demand of the European Union.

The meeting is due to finish Tuesday evening, and envoys said they were cautiously optimistic that all 142 WTO members would concede enough ground to reach agreement.

``We are in a slowdown economy, on the brink of recession. Less than a good deal is better than no deal,'' said Nacer Benjelloun, Morocco's ambassador to the WTO.
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