Roberto Azevedo.jpg
Photograph: wto.org

Disagreements between industrialized and emerging economies on how to liberalize global trade and include poorer countries were set to overshadow the first day of ministerial World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on Tuesday in Nairobi.

Starting in the afternoon, the four-day meeting is intended to unblock the Doha round of talks on free trade and development that was started in 2001, but experts have said there were slim chances that trade ministers from WTO's 162 member countries would achieve a breakthrough in Kenya's capital.

The United States and the European Union are demanding that big emerging economies, which have turned into rivals for developed countries, should no longer insist on getting preferential trade conditions that were originally aimed at boosting the development of poor countries.

Countries like China and India are strongly opposed to this idea and demand that the Doha round be continued despite the lack of progress.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo said ahead of the conference that he would spare no effort to achieve at least progress on parts of the Doha agenda, for example by agreeing to reduce agricultural subsidies and by adopting measures to help least developed countries.

The European Union has signalled that it would be ready to compromise on agricultural subsidies, "but only as part of a comprehensive, balanced deal based on parallelism," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said before flying to Kenya.

US Trade Representative Michael Froman set the tone for Nairobi when he wrote in a Financial Times commentary that the Doha round should be scrapped in favour of new approaches.

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