Claiming he sees a glimmer of hope for a World Trade Organisation pact on IT trade, the body's chairman has today prolonged talks for another month.
The talks have been blocked for a year by the refusal of south east Asian countries, which say they are badly hit by the ongoing economic crisis, to broaden the WTO's existing agreement on easing or eliminating customs tariffs on IT equipment.
That refusal was reiterated when the committee met, purportedly with the aim of closing the negotiations down. The WTO 's current agreement, in force since 1996, is adhered to by 44 countries and covers 90 per cent of world trade in IT products.
Despite the deadlock, Martin Harvey of New Zealand, chairman of the committee, appealed succesfully for an extension until 20 November, claiming that "a deal can be achieved. I am encouraged by my contacts but the negotiations can't go on for ever."
He added: "We don't really need a lot of time to finish this modest addition to the existing IT Agreement."p> Malaysia, which has been leading the south east Asian opposition to a new agreement, slackened this stance slightly by saying it would not oppose the terms with regard to loud speakers, colour televisions and black and white picture tubes. But Malaysia - and Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia - still has a long list of products it is not prepared to see granted virtual free trade in the twenty first century.
Luis Ople, a WTO spokesman, said the November meeting would be preceded by a week of intensive bilateral negotiations. But Pierre-Louis Girard of Switzerland expressed the opinion of most delegates when he said: "This is it. We can't go on for ever and November is the last meeting."
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