Diplomats at the World Trade Organisation will in the next five months decide whether to launch a new general round of negotiations, which member countries had hoped to launch at the disastrous trade summit at Seattle in 1999. Another WTO ministerial summit is to be held at Doha, Qatar, in November and diplomats hope to narrow their differences by July, to enable them to decide to attempt another general round launch at this meeting, which would look at every trade topic, including drinks, health and sanitary matters and e-commerce.

If they do, there is bound to be an impact on the current agricultural round, which could be slowed down. WTO members this week finished the first phase of the food trade round, where governments make general policy statements. In stage two – expected to start in April and last for 12 months – diplomats will attempt to flesh these positions out with detail on subjects such as tariffs, quotas, export subsidies and environmental grants, so that compromise deals can be struck in 2002.

By Keith Nuthall, just-food.com correspondent