The EU and a coalition of developing nations, which clashed recently over contentious farm subsidies, issued a surprise joint statement in Brazil on Friday calling for a speedy resumption of global trade talks.
Officials of 19 of the 20 nations of the so-called G20 coalition, including Brazil, China, India and South Africa, and EU negotiators were wrapping up a two-day summit here Friday ahead of a key WTO meeting in Geneva next week.
The WTO has set a December 15 deadline to relaunch global trade talks that collapsed in Cancun, Mexico, in September amid deep rifts between rich and poor nations.
One factor in that collapse was the emergence of the G20 coalition, which demanded curbs on farm subsidies in exchange for a broader agreement on free trade rules. The G20 countries are all WTO members.
However, Friday's joint communique appeared to signal that the rift has been eased, and that the trade rivals are ready for a fresh round of talks.
"The dialogue proved to be fruitful and positive with both sides explaining their own positions in a business-like manner and acknowledging the importance of this dialogue to achieve progress in the negotiations," the two blocs said in a joint communique.
The statement said there was "general agreement that we need to intensify negotiations early next year" with a view to finalising the Doha round of trade talks by a 2004 WTO deadline.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said the statement underlined "the preference for negotiation between the two blocs."
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, who prior to the communique's release had also struck an upbeat tone, expressed satisfaction with the talks.
"The impression is that the G20 wants to be a force for movement and it is a positive developement," he told reporters.
However, the EU trade commissioner conceded tough negotiations remained, saying, "Discussions were frank open and rather precise, even if the purpose of the meeting was not to negociate."
"The impression I had is that we [the EU and G20] not only want to pursue negociations but also to show some flexibility. If we start where we were [after Cancun] we will not succeed," Lamy said.
He said tough negotiations on market access, domestic support for agriculture and exports now lay ahead.
The EU and the G20 stressed they should "move as quickly as possible into an increased dialogue among all partners to achieve real and substantive progress in line with the Doha mandate and the timeframe defined therein," the statement said.
"The G20 reiterated its disposition to contribute to the success of negotiations and to move into a negotiation mode early next year," it added.
WTO director-general Supachai Panitchpakdi, who also attended the meetings here, said the talks had been "very useful."
"This meeting was indeed a very useful one. I've been encouraged by open and frank discussions," the WTO chief said.
"I hope we'll see more of those disciussions in Geneva and other places once we move back to our negociation process," Panitchpakdi said.
Both blocs agreed to continue pursuing their negotiations after the Brasilia meetings through their Geneva delegations, and at a ministerial level to achieve "a successful and timely completion of the Doha round."
Despite the optimism, some delegates said problems remained outside of the EU, G20 blocs, particularly with the US.
"It's known that the US also poses a problem," French foreign trade minister Francois Loos said.
Loos pointed out that Brazil exports 40 percent of its farm products to Europe and only 10 percent to the US.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also raised the idea of a G20 free trade zone. That was not included in the communique, but Lamy called it an interesting notion.
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