The quest for free trade with just rules will be center stage for the next few days in Hong Kong as the 6th Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization takes place.
Ministers and negotiators, totaling no less than 6,000 official delegates, from 149 countries will be present at a continuation of the so-called development round begun at Doha. They will be joined by 3,000 representatives from NGOs from all over the world.
The Brazilian government began preparatory meetings over the weekend. "So far, the climate is positive," says Minister of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim, who heads the Brazilian delegation.
In an introductory declaration, the head of the WTO, Pascal Lamy, called on participants to use the meeting to reduce differences in key areas, such as agriculture, industrial tariffs, services and the question of special treatment for poor countries.
"Positive results here will lay the groundwork for achieving solutions over the next 12 months," said Lamy. "It will not be easy to reach agreement on these issues in just six days, but everyone is certainly highly motivated."
The World Bank estimates that if this round of negotiations is successful it could mean an additional US$ 300 billion in world trade over the next decade and lift 140 million people out of poverty.
Representing Brazil are the ministers of Foreign Relations, Celso Amorim; Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto; Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues; Development, Industry and Foreign Trade, Luiz Fernando Furlan; and the head of the Special Secretariat for Fish, José Fritsch.
The Hong Kong meeting is expected to be dominated by controversial issues left over from the Doha Round (also known as the "development round"), mainly the question of agricultural subsidies.
And it is exactly agriculture that ministers Furlan and Amorim will discuss today with other members of the G-20 group even before the conference officially gets underway.