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Trade ministers from the United States, the European Union, Canada and Japan will begin two days of talks in Tokyo today centered on preparations for the next global trade liberalization negotiations to be held under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.

The Quadrilateral Trade Ministers Meeting will involve Japanese trade chief Kaoru Yosano, who will chair the meeting, Canadian Minister for International Trade Sergio Marchi, Leon Brittan, vice president of the European Commission, the executive body of the EU, and U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky.

The participants are expected to discuss ways for the WTO members to proceed with the next round of WTO talks scheduled in 2000, following the WTO ministerial level meetings scheduled for November in Seattle.

Specifically, they will discuss the so-called built-in-agenda of service and farming sectors, issues that are being carried over from the Uruguay round of multilateral trade negotiations conducted under the auspices of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the predecessor of the WTO.

The participants are also eyeing other subjects that will probably be covered in the coming WTO negotiations, including further reduction of tariffs on industrial products and enforcement of anti-dumping measures.

The TRIPS agreement on intellectual property rights, new investment rules, competition rules, electronic commerce, government procurement, and trade and the environment will also be discussed.

Having taken eight years to conclude the previous Uruguay round, the major economies have basically agreed to wrap up the new round within three years.

There are, however, deep differences of opinion, particularly between the U.S. and Japan and the EU.

Japan and Europe want to put all issues and sectors on the table at once, to give the parties involved in the WTO millennium round room to cut deals regarding trade liberalization in sectors where their interests conflict. The U.S., however, believes such an approach would prolong negotiations and would prefer to handle each sector separately, according to Japanese officials.

While Japan is showing particular interest in industrial tariffs, investment rules and antidumping orders, the U.S. is strongly interested in agriculture and services. The EU is looking at broad areas to be negotiated, they said.

At the quadrilateral meetings, the ministers are also expected to seek active involvement of developing countries in the new round, and to take up such pending issues as China’s application for WTO membership and selection of the new WTO bureau chief.

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