Zoellick optimistic for WTO frameworks

Zoellick optimistic for WTO frameworks

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on Thursday gave the World Trade Organization a better than even chance of meeting a July deadline for outlining crucial frameworks for eventual free trade deals.

But as some 30 trade ministers gathered in Paris for what could be a pivotal two days of talks, Zoellick singled out Japan and some developing countries for criticism, saying they needed to throw their weight behind the search for compromises.

"I am an optimist. I believe the chances are better than 50-50 that we can achieve this. But there are a number of serious issues still," Reuters quoted him as saying at the end of a speech at the French Senate.

He praised the European Union for declaring its willingness to end farm export subsidies, potentially removing a stumbling block for agriculture, and for showing flexibility in another key area -- whether to launch formal negotiations in new areas such as government contracts and customs clearance.

But Zoellick said it was not enough for the Europeans and the Americans to see eye-to-eye, and that others must present proposals, such as Japan, which has been reluctant to open its market to rice imports.

The WTO has given up on its goal of finishing the Doha Round of trade liberalization by the end of 2004, but members set a mid-summer deadline for outlines of proposed agreements.

Besides agriculture, the WTO is also pressing for frameworks on industrial goods trade, the so-called Singapore issues involving the EU-sought reforms such as customs clearance, and cotton, which African states wanted treated separately.