PORTO, Portugal (B)--WTO director general Mike Moore repeated March 17 that it is still possible to launch a new round of comprehensive trade talks this side of the U.S. presidential elections.

Speaking on China, Moore also said that he remained "optimistic" China could join the trade organization this year. China is currently negotiating bilateral market access deals with potential WTO trading partners, chiefly among them, the European Union.

Speaking to journalists here ahead of an informal EU ministerial meeting, Moore said, "I still think it is possible to get a round going (before the US elections). I think it's a serious view of the U.S. administration, of Europe, and of Japan."

Moore said that he was continuing efforts to get a four-point package of "confidence building measures" under way as groundwork for the launch of a new round. These include: an initiative to allow least developed countries to export

their goods duty-free, tackling the problem of implementation for many countries who fear a new round will only add to difficulties with existing agreements, technical assistance for developing countries, and a number of internal WTO housekeeping measures.

Moore said that while he did believe that there has recently been a "softening and mallowing of position", he added: "I can't report to you that there's enough flexibility yet to give me the confidence to assemble the ministers."

The breakdown of talks in Seattle's December meeting of WTO trade ministers was partly faulted to the inability of major trading partners, namely the EU and U.S., to narrow their differences over key issues. But Moore declined to "single any one out."

If a new round isn't launched this side of the US elections, it is very likely that the WTO could see further delays in such efforts as the new U.S. Administration takes time to set out its priorities, Moore said. Much will depend on "who and what happens, and that is more time," he said.

On China, Moore said he remained optimistic that the Asian power will be able to join the WTO this year.

China must negotiate a bilateral market access agreement with all WTO trading partners before joining the trade body. While the number of such agreements that China must yet negotiate has dwindled to less than a dozen, a deal must still be hammered out with the EU.

Moore said he agreed with recent remarks by President Clinton that if China did not join this year, it would be a "missed opportunity."

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