Geneva, July 23 :

Key negotiators will try yet again to break a deadlock in the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) floundering Doha Round talks when they gather for a meeting starting today.

Top officials including US trade representative Susan Schwab, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and counterparts from Australia, Brazil, India and Japan face a stiff challenge: do something to save the talks, which are teetering on the brink after almost five years of jousting.

Much of the logjam in the negotiations at the 149-nation WTO hinges on disagreements amongst the heavyweights, particularly in the vexed area of the farm trade. The key players are at loggerheads over the relative concessions required, constantly urging one another to make a move. That is hardly a recipe for success, said a senior US trade official. “I think what we’re all looking for now is to get beyond the rock, paper, scissors dynamic,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The talks have ‘so many moving parts’ that everyone nee-ds to shift at the same time to keep the machine moving forward, said the official.

The Geneva gathering, behind closed doors at the US mission in Geneva, is scheduled to continue tomorrow and be followed by further talks on July 28-29. It comes in the wake of the Group of Eight (G8) summit of leading powers in St Peterbsurg.

The G8 on July 16 had said that negotiators must within weeks thrash out the broad outlines of a deal and help steer the Doha Round to its conclusion by the end of the year. The following day, G8 leaders joined forces with counterparts from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to try to spur the Doha Round on.

The negotiations began in capital of Qatar in 2001 with the aim of producing an international treaty that would tear down trade barriers such as subsidies and customs duties and enable trade to improve living standards in developing countries.

The round was meant to end in 2004. That target was later shifted to December 2006 because of persistent breakdowns. The talks have swung back and forth from collapse to revival, leaving behind a string of missed deadlines. A crunch session at the beginning of this month fizzled out without a breakthrough. But rumours have been flying since the G8 summit that, behind closed doors, the leaders cut a deal to end the Doha deadlock.

It has been suggested that US president George W Bush offered deeper cuts in Washington’s farm subsidies, which according to critics skew trade in favour of agribusiness in the US.