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[GENEVA] The World Trade Organization said Tuesday that huge gaps remained among members trying to negotiate a global trade deal, warning that failure to make progress by year's end could spark a "dangerous situation".
The 161-member WTO began its so-called Doha Round of talks in 2001, aiming to tear down global trade barriers, with an emphasis on supporting development in poorer nations.
Progress has been slow and frustrating, but members set a July 31 deadline to agree on a work plan to move the talks forward at a ministerial meeting in December in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.
That deadline will almost certainly not be met, chief WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told journalists on Tuesday.
"If we were to achieve a work programme in the next 72 hours, I would be very, very surprised... so that is a disappointment," Mr Rockwell said.
"The gaps are very wide," he said, lamenting that members including the world's top economic powers have appeared unwilling to make concessions in key areas.
With the Doha Round set to drag into its 14th year, Mr Rockwell said the need for concrete progress in Nairobi was vital.
"I think people are starting to understand that we are running out of time and that a failure to achieve a meaningful outcome in Nairobi... would be a difficult and dangerous situation for the organisation," Mr Rockwell said.
"A failed meeting in Nairobi would have very adverse consequences for the WTO," he continued, citing concerns that some countries could lose the will to carry on with the process.
The WTO reached a landmark deal in late 2013 on overhauling global customs procedures, the first multilateral agreement concluded by the organisation since it was founded in 1995.
The measures will take effect once they are ratified by the parliaments in two thirds of member-states.
But agreements on the trade of agricultural goods and industrial goods - the other key planks of the Doha Round - have remained elusive.
"Among the big players, there is a big gap between what they want others to give and what they are prepared to give in return," Mr Rockwell said.