Business groups urge progress in WTO talks

Business groups urge progress in WTO talks

Business groups from the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin American urged political leaders Friday to face up to the difficult decisions needed to reach a new world trade deal.

In a petition sent to members of the World Trade Organization, the 35 business groups called for fundamental reform of world agricultural trade, "including the elimination of all export subsidies and trade-distorting domestic support."

They paired that demand -- politically painful for the European Union and the United States -- with a plea for "substantial liberalization of major agricultural markets worldwide" that would require leading developing countries like Brazil and India to lower their tariff barriers.

The organizations behind the petition included the U.S. National Foreign Trade Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Union of Employers' and Industrial Confederations of Europe, Brazil's National Confederation of Industries, and other groups from Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Central America.

The petition also called on countries to finish the world trade talks "as soon as possible." It came as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick was hosting a meeting in London with top trade officials from the European Union, Brazil and other key countries to try to move the negotiations forward.

The latest so-called Doha round of talks collapsed last year in Cancun, Mexico, amid sharp disagreements over agriculture and the four "Singapore issues" -- anti-trust policy, investment regulations, government procurement and customs clearing procedures.

The world trade talks are officially targeted for conclusion by January 1, 2005 but there is almost no expectation that will be met.