Hong Kong, November 7:

Four key members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) planned to meet today in London for talks that could be crucial in deciding whether next month’s ministerial meeting in Hong Kong is a success.

Trade negotiators from India, Brazil, the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) were to hash out disputes over farm subsidies that have blocked progress on a new global trade treaty. The lingering disagreements have jeopardised the December 13-18 Hong Kong ministerial meet. The summit aims to resolve many of the issues that have been hanging up the so-called Doha round of trade talks.

The Doha round was launched with the goal of boosting the economy by lowering trade barriers across all sectors, paying particular attention to the concerns of developing nations. It is already well behind an original deadline.

Last week, America’s trade ambassador, Rob Portman, urged European negotiators to promise deeper agricultural tariff cuts at this week’s meeting. Portman — who was to attend the London talks — warned that the Hong Kong meeting could be jeopardised if the EU doesn’t make the cuts.

The EU has offered to reduce agricultural tariffs, but it wants concessions in other areas, notably service industries and market access for industrial goods.

France has threatened to veto any deal to liberalise world trade if EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson — who was also to attend Monday’s meeting — makes excessive concessions.

India’s top trade official, Gopal K Pillai, said yesterday that he’ll urge the US to make more cuts in subsidies given to American farmers. Brazil has made similar demands.