- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

MOMBASA, Kenya (Agence France-Presse) — Top trade officials from the United States, the European Union and Africa said yesterday they had emerged from informal talks in Kenya encouraged about the future of the current stalled round of World Trade Organization negotiations.

“Little by little we make progress,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said at a news conference after the meeting, which brought together trade ministers and officials from more than a dozen African countries to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

“It’s very important that 2004 not be a lost year for the WTO,” said Mr. Zoellick, who is in the last days of a whirlwind world tour designed to rescue the current round of trade-liberalization negotiations since their collapse in Cancun, Mexico, in September.

“We have hard work ahead, but I leave this session with a feeling of encouragement and [that] there’s a commitment in Africa as well as a recognition of the need for flexibility to move this forward,” he said.

Africa accounts for 2 percent of global trade.

The Cancun meeting fell apart amid disagreements on trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in the European Union and the United States and because poor countries refused to be pressured to widen Doha’s development agenda to include four so-called Singapore issues: transparency in government procurement, competition policy, the red tape in trade and cross-border investment regulations.

Mr. Zoellick said the United States was willing to limit the number of Singapore issues on the Doha agenda to one: trade facilitation, which involves reducing the bureaucracy involved in importing and exporting.

European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy was also upbeat, describing as “very important” the fact that developing countries, collectively known as G-90, were building a common negotiating position through meetings such as this.

“I take today’s meeting a signal on the G-90’s part to embark on a closer negotiating relationship” with us, he said.

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