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WTO delegates agree on launch of new trade round

DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ Bleary-eyed delegates at the World Trade Organization conference agreed Wednesday to start a new round of much-anticipated talks to free up global commerce after the lone holdout _ India _ said it would not object.

After six days of hard bargaining, trade ministers approved a deal many hope will send a shot of confidence into the flagging global economy _ and restore credibility to an organization traumatized by its failure in Seattle two years ago.

Differences between developing and rich nations had prevented the Seattle gathering from reaching an agreement on opening a new round of talks to lower trade barriers. A new round would likely last for years.

India had refused to budge on issues key to developing countries, including a demand that rich countries _ mainly the United States and Canada _ agree to quicker reductions in limits on textile imports. Diplomats said India dropped the demand with the understanding that the issue would be discussed in one of the WTO committees.

Ultimately, however, it agreed not to object to adoption of the main declaration, which set out an agenda for a new round of talks, said Sergio Marchi, Canada's ambassador to the WTO. Its strong objections would be noted in a separate statement, he said.

India agreed to other declarations _ including ones to ensure poor countries can get access to expensive Western drugs and to speed up implementation of past trade agreements, said Marchi.

Many developing countries say they have yet to benefit from earlier WTO deals, which they contend benefit the richer nations.

WTO Deputy Director-General Paul-Henri Ravier said the ministers would be moving to a public plenary session soon, which is where declarations are formally adopted.

The United States, which had already compromised on poor countries' access to patented drugs and by agreeing to a review of anti-dumping rules, said it has conceded everything it can without the approval of Congress.

Earlier, the European Union accepted a compromise on phasing out farm export subsidies _ an issue that had threatened to sink the talks earlier.

During all-night negotiating, diplomats managed a linguistic finesse on whether new trade talks should aim at ``phasing out'' farm export subsidies _ as almost all of the WTO's 142 members want.

Only the EU _ most emphatically France _ had called that wording unacceptable. France, the world's second-biggest agricultural exporter after the United States, has a militant farm lobby and presidential elections just six months away.

A compromise was found to keep the words ``phasing out'' in the declaration, but preceded by ``without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations,'' according to the latest draft Wednesday morning.

The 15 EU nations agreed to the pact after a break to allow the French to consult with Paris.

In return, other countries were willing to accept EU demands that the new talks should take consideration of some environmental issues, negotiators said. For example, the EU wants to clarify how agreements like the Kyoto accord on global warming relate to the WTO, and whose rules would take precedence in case of conflict.

But diplomats said India initially refused to go along with that and other concessions made to bring the Europeans into the fold.

Developing countries dislike references to environmental protection because they fear such standards could be used as a cover to keep their goods out of the EU.

The new draft also includes talks in some areas that the EU wanted but had been previously rejected by developing countries, mainly because they said they did not yet have the capacity to tackle them.

They include rules protecting investment; assuring the equal application of competition, or antitrust, policy; making government procurement more transparent and easing red tape at customs offices.

Negotiations on these issues will not start for at least two years, however.
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