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BRICS dig in heels over world trade talks

A traffic policeman walks past a signage decoration for BRICS Summit outside the Sheraton Hotel, the venue of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit in Sanya, China's Hainan province, April 13, 2011.


Trade ministers of the five BRIC nations gave no sign on Wednesday of being ready to make concessions to break a deadlock in decade-old talks to free up global commerce.

The Doha Round of negotiations, being conducted under the umbrella of the World Trade Organization, has made little progress since coming tantalizingly close to a breakthrough in 2008.

Among the main reasons for failure then were the refusal of the United States and other rich countries to reduce farm subsidies further, and the rejection by developing countries, led by India, to increase Western access to their markets for goods and services.

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Meeting on the eve of a BRICS summit on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, trade ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and new member South Africa sounded pessimistic about the prospects for the talks.

"The delicate balance of trade-offs achieved over 10 years of negotiations and contained in the draft July 2008 texts risks being upset," the ministers said in a media statement.

Leaders of the Group of 20 advanced and developing economies declared in November that there was a narrow window of opportunity in 2011 to finish the round. A number of key WTO members, including the United States and France, have elections in 2012.

The United States said last month that major emerging economies had to muster the political courage to open their markets. But, by endorsing the outline agreement drawn up in 2008, the BRICS suggested the onus was on the West to climb down.

"Ministers remain willing to conclude the round on the basis of those draft modalities," they said in the draft statement.

China's Ministry of Commerce said the meeting also called for improved global co-ordination of economic policy to shore up the world recovery and achieve robust, balanced growth.

The economic clout of the BRICS group is growing as the developed world struggles to pare debt and the five are starting to operate as a common bloc in the G20, providing a counterpoint to the United States and other traditional powers.

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The five BRICS countries accounted for just under 18 per cent of the world's $62-billion economy in 2010, though China's GDP was bigger than the other four members put together.

As part of a drive to boost trade and investment among themselves, leaders on Thursday are expected sign an agreement to extend mutual credit lines denominated not in dollars but in the BRICS' local currencies, according to India media reports.

"For future growth and development, BRICS countries needs to boost trade among each other," said Lin Yueqin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

Mr. Lin noted that trade between China and Russia, for example, was below $60-billion a year, a fraction of the $200-billion in trade between China and South Korea.

He said the caucus, which is holding just its third annual summit, had a long way to go before it could match the Group of Seven advanced economies.

"The BRICS is more of a symbol for co-operation than a group for joint action. But, as with everything, without a humble start you can't have a great future," Mr. Lin said.

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