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WTO negotiators reach sweeping trade deal
Updated: 2005-12-18 09:57

HONG KONG - WTO negotiators reached agreement early Sunday on a sweeping trade deal dismantling barriers to trade in agriculture, manufacturing and services, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said.

Delegates met overnight and managed to overcome differences on a draft text setting an end date for farm export subsidies, a major sticking point. A final agreement on an exact date was expected later in the day, Nath said.

"We'll have a definite date," he said. "We have a deal."

Nath said that ending agricultural export subsidies _ or funds that governments pay producers to promote agricultural exports _ by 2013 would be acceptable to India, one of the leading developing nations and a key player in the rules-setting World Trade Organization.

But Nath said the WTO's 149 members had yet to agree what that date would be.

"I think we'll have an agreement in time," added Pakistan's Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan.

However, the European Union denied on Sunday that World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiators had reached agreement on a series of deals in Hong Kong, saying the "goalposts moved at the last moment."

"There is no deal at the moment," said Peter Power, spokesman for European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. "That is not the situation that we want but others have put a barrier in the way."

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said on Sunday that World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiators had come extremely close to a deal on ending farm export subsidies and he was still hopeful they would clinch it.

"On export subsidies I still hope we can come together," he told reporters.

"I think it's important to have a date," Portman said.

This week's meeting in Hong Kong was originally meant to produce a detailed outline for a global free trade agreement by December 31, 2006.

But negotiations were slowed as the European Union had refused to open its agricultural markets any further until developing nations offer to lower their trade barriers to industrial goods and services.

This impasse has still to be solved and ministers say the final Hong Kong agreement will not include a precise formula for cutting subsidies and tariffs. Nath said a further meeting would be necessary to achieve that, most likely at the end of April 2006.

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