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Japan will host an informal ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization on Feb. 15 and 16, Foreign Ministry officials said Friday.

The Tokyo meeting is aimed at offering ministers from selected parties a chance to seek points for compromise in a bid to allow the 144-member world trade watchdog to successfully conclude a three-year trade round launched in November 2001 in Doha, Qatar.

The Tokyo gathering is to follow one held last November in Sydney, where ministers from 25 economies convened for “a long and tiring” one-day debate.

Tokyo plans to invite ministers from the same 25 parties attending the Sydney meeting, including the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Kenya, South Korea and Mexico, the officials said.

The ministers are expecting tough talks centering on agricultural trade in the upcoming meeting, as WTO member states have set a March 31 deadline for an accord on the framework of their farm-trade liberalization commitments.

Standing as a major stumbling block to a successful deal in the new trade round by Jan. 1, 2005, is confrontation between major importers of farm products, such as Japan, and exporters, including the U.S. and the so-called Cairns group led by Australia.

Although Japan hopes to win understanding from other parties, it believes its stance on the farm issue was treated as a minority opinion in a recent overview paper by Stuart Harbinson, chairman of the Agriculture Committee for the round.

Farm chief Tadamori Oshima, during his four-day Washington visit, which ended Friday, failed to break the impasse over farm trade liberalization in meetings with senior U.S. officials.

Agriculture is one of the most contentious issues in the WTO trade talks. The Cairns group has criticized Japan and other farm importers for failing to offer proposals with specific targets for further reducing trade barriers in farm trade. Tokyo is against fast-track measures to liberalize agriculture.

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