Rio De Janeiro, April 2:

The world’s top trading powers met in a race against time to advance the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) troubled drive to dismantle commercial barriers.

The US and European Union trade supremos were wrapping up an informal two-day long meeting with Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim, representing the developing world, and WTO chief Pascal Lamy.

The officials, including US trade representative Rob Portman and EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, were to hold a press conference later after reviewing the scant progress to date on the WTO’s stalled ‘Doha Round’. Lamy said both rich and developing nations must make painful concessions if they are to fulfil their promise to enrich the lives of millions of people through freer trade.

“There is no time to lose,” Lamy told Sao Paulo business leaders Friday, noting that the WTO has only a month before it is meant to forge the outlines of a comprehensive agreement, “On each of the three issues — agricultural tariffs, industrial tariffs and domestic agricultural subsidies — each of the big actors has to move.”

But the meeting, in a glitzy Rio hotel overlooking Copacabana beach, was not expected to yield any major breakthroughs, with each side sticking to its guns on the concessions it expects from others. Brazil, backed by its partners in the G20 bloc of developing countri-es such as India and South Africa, insists that the EU must first and foremost sla-sh the generous trade prote-ction afforded to its farmers.

Agricultural reform, they argue, would do more than anything else to better the lives of the world’s poorest citizens. But Mandelson, backed to an extent by Portman, retorts that developing nations must give something in return through opening their markets to more industrial imports and service industries.

The EU commissioner said the WTO must not rush into forging a final agreement.