Trade ministers from four major world economies will gather in Tokyo in mid-May to hold annual trade talks aimed at kick-starting preparations for the millennium round of global free trade negotiations, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry said Wednesday.

The Quadrilateral Trade Ministers Meeting, a two-day event Japan will host May 11 and 12 at a Tokyo hotel, will involve the United States, Canada and the European Union. With these four parties accounting for two-thirds of the world’s trade volume, any consensus formed is expected to have a powerful impact on the global economy.

Attending for Japan will MITI chief Kaoru Yosano, who will chair the meeting, Leon Brittan, vice president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, and Canadian Minister for International Trade Sergio Marchi.

The participants are expected to concentrate on how to generate momentum for members of the World Trade Organization before proceeding with the next round of WTO talks scheduled in 2000, referred to as the millennium round.

The WTO members have agreed to discuss liberalization of the service and farming sectors, issues that are being carried over from the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations carried out under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the forerunner to the WTO.

But the four trade chiefs are also expected to sort out other subjects to cover in the liberalization negotiations. Possible items include tariffs on industrial products, antidumping rules, intellectual property rights agreements, new investment rules, competition rules, trade and the environment, government procurement, and electronic commerce.

While the participants have basically agreed to conclude the new round within three years, there are tenacious differences of opinion on what approach to take. This will be the first ministerial-level dialogue on the issue since May 1998, when WTO ministers began preparations.

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