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Sharp differences remain in WTO talks

(Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: WASHINGTON - Countries remain sharply divided in negotiations on agriculture heading into an important World Trade Organization meeting next month in Cancun, Mexico, a top U.S. trade official said on Wednesday.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said countries also strongly disagree over the formula for cutting industrial tariffs and whether to formally launch negotiations on investment and other so-called ``Singapore issues.''

But speaking to reporters by phone from Geneva, Allgeier said it was possible there could be a deal before the Cancun meeting to guarantee that poor countries will have access to cheap versions of patented life-saving drugs.

Washington has been anxious for countries to make enough progress at the Cancun meeting to keep world trade talks on track to conclude by January 2005. The negotiations were launched in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001.

Allgeier said a draft declaration for the Cancun meeting issued earlier this week by WTO General Council Chairman Carlos Perez del Castillo ``falls short of the level of ambition'' the United States would like to see.

However, Perez del Castillo is expected to deliver a letter to trade ministers along with the draft outlining the important decisions that they will need to make in Cancun, he said.

The United States will push for changes to the draft that would allow an ambitious level of market opening in all areas of the talks, while still providing the poorest countries with some flexibility to protect sensitive industries, he said.