Breakthrough in Paris trade talks

An accord on international trade has moved a step closer after the World Trade Organisation agreed on a European Union proposal to structure tariffs on agricultural imports.

The proposal, which will see tariffs converted into a percentage of a good's value, rather than a rate per tonne, was backed by ministers from 30 WTO nations at talks in Paris.

The agreement breaks a long-standing deadlock over subsidies and protected markets, which led to the failure of the Doha round of talks in 2004.

Several WTO members, particularly Brazil, accused the EU of holding too steadfastly to protectionist positions.

But following the breakthrough, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is hopeful that the Doha agenda can now be pursued.

He said: "Our proposal has now been accepted by the countries which have the greatest stake in the agricultural negotiation. The road is now clear for rapid and substantial progress."

The compromise must, however, be formally accepted later this year at a meeting in Geneva.

The Paris talks will now move onto the issues of manufactured goods and services, with the hope of securing agreement in 2006.

The next set of ministerial talks will take place in Hong Kong in December 2005.