GENEVA — World Trade organization countries still have a lot of preliminary negotiating work to do if they wish to advance the current round of trade talks when the group convenes in Cancún, Mexico, next month. That was the assessment of senior diplomats after Friday’s release of a draft text on the meeting.

Sources said the four-page “draft Cancún Ministerial text” is a fair and balanced assessment of the state of the talks, which were launched in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001 and face a self-imposed Jan. 1, 2005 deadline.

The objective of the talks is to lower barriers to trade in goods and services estimated at nearly $7.8 trillion in 2002. The 2005 deadline for this round of talks is unrelated to the end of quotas on textiles and apparel, which was agreed to in an earlier round of negotiations and will also occur on Jan. 1, 2005.

“This text is a clear indication of the gaps between the positions of our member governments,” Supachai Panitchpakdi, WTO director general told reporters. “It is also a clear indication of the vast amount of work which lies ahead of us between now and Cancún.”

In a covering note to delegations, Supachai and the chairman of the WTO ruling General Council, Ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo of Uruguay, stressed the draft does not purport to represent agreement.

They underscored the first draft also reflects “how far we still have to go in a number of key areas.”

The goal is to work with WTO members to produce a text for transmission to ministers by the latter part of August, they said.

“It’s still early, the draft text is still full of holes,” said a WTO ambassador from an industrialized country, who declined to be identified.

An ambassador from?a Latin American country, who also requested anonymity, added: “We are getting ready to deal.”

The Latin envoy stressed that some of the deals will need to be brokered ahead of the meeting, adding, “otherwise we will have a political problem at Cancún. We will not be able to do it all at Cancún.”The draft accord contains many blank spaces indicating details that will need to be negotiated between now and the September parley, WTO negotiators said. The most politically volatile issues will likely not be negotiated until the meeting begins, they added.

One senior envoy tracking the closed-door sessions contended, “The problem is not with ambassadors or the WTO. The problem is in capitals where political decisions have not been taken.”

The draft document stresses the need to agree on a framework for the negotiations on increasing market access for industrial goods, including the controversial proposal to eliminate all duties on seven sectors, including textiles, clothing and footwear.

But it places more emphasis on the need to secure a deal to provide access to low-cost drugs for poor nations, and agreeing on the terms for lowering barriers to agriculture. Those two issues are very politically sensitive for many rich and poor nations.

Diplomats said the wide gap between U.S. and EU agriculture policies — which in the past has prompted trade wars that have affected apparel imports — needs to be bridged for much progress to be made.

“These negotiations [on agriculture] are extremely important,” said chief U.S. agricultural negotiator Ambassador Allen Johnson. “We encourage all [WTO] members to roll up their sleeves.”

While Washington and Brussels are still far apart on many agricultural trade issues, a senior EU official said there is “a willingness by both sides to see if useful ideas can be found.”

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