GENEVA (AP) - The squabbling began even before the talks did.
The world's most powerful trading nations gathering Thursday to hammer out a long-delayed global trade treaty spent most of the first day finger-pointing - leaving little apparent hope of a breakthrough when official talks begin Friday.
Following meetings of key negotiating blocs, developing countries accused rich nations of shirking their duties while the Europeans were publicly split over sensitive cuts to farm tariffs.
''Somehow the gaps don't seem to diminish,'' Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said of the differences that have put the Doha round of trade talks two years behind schedule.
''If anything, if I look backwards, maybe to two or three months ago ... I have the impression that the gaps have widened, or at least become more rigid,'' Amorim told reporters after a meeting of the G-20 group of developing nations.
More than 60 ministers are meeting in Geneva over the next few days in a bid to reach an agreement that the World Trade Organization says could add billions of dollars (euros) to the global economy and lift millions of people out of poverty.
It is the largest WTO gathering since a failed conference in Hong Kong in December and most ministers stressed that time was running out to complete the round.
''It is very obvious we have reached a critical stage of negotiations,'' EU trade chief Peter Mandelson said. ''This isn't now the time for bluffing or brinkmanship.''
Other leaders agreed, but nobody appeared prepared to make a decisive move.
Only the EU seemed ready to make some concessions - and that overture was rejected by some countries under its own umbrella.
Mandelson said the 25-nation bloc was ''prepared, if the circumstances are right, significantly to improve our offer in agriculture market access, moving towards and close to what the G-20 have asked for.''
However, French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde said Mandelson was given no authorization at an EU meeting earlier Thursday to improve upon Europe's existing offer of a 39 percent cut in allowed levels of farm tariffs - well below the 54 percent demanded by the G-20, led by Brazil and India.
''It would be a major error to suggest a further opening in market access,'' added French Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau. ''That's a trap and we want to make sure the commission avoids falling into that trap.''
Austrian Agriculture Minister Josef Proell said moving toward the proposal of the G-20, ''is not possible for EU farmers.'' Austria currently holds the EU presidency.
Brussels does not need a formal mandate from member states to negotiate on trade issues and France could only block a deal after it was put to the WTO's members for ratification - but the division does not bode well for the start of formal talks Friday.
While the Europeans were bickering among themselves, India and Brazil criticized wealthy countries for ignoring the fact the Doha round of talks, named for the Qatari capital where they were launched in 2001, were established specifically to address the needs of developing countries.
The EU and U.S. have both said further cutbacks in farm support programs were dependent on developing countries opening up their markets to foreign competition in industries and services.
''So far, our trading partners have not matched our ambition,'' U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, ''but it is not too late.''
The position was supported by Mandelson, who said that all nations must ''move in concert.''
Amorim said the wealthy countries' stance was ''politically wrong and morally false.'' He added that a successful agreement ''would require a degree of leadership from rich countries which we have not seen so far.''
Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said of the U.S. and EU that ''as leaders they should lead the development round.''
The WTO's six most powerful countries - the U.S., the EU, India, Brazil, Japan, and Australia - were meeting Thursday evening to gauge their positions before discussions widen on Friday.