WHAT: Founded in 1995, the World Trade Organization creates the laws that govern international trade between its members and helps them settle trade disputes. The WTO's main goal is to promote free trade, which it says brings economic prosperity.
WHERE: Geneva. Formal negotiations to take place at the WTO's headquarters. Informal talks scattered around the city.
WHEN: Most ministers expected to arrive by Thursday, June 29. Formal and informal meetings projected through July 2.
WHY: The WTO's Doha round of trade liberalization negotiations, launched in Qatar's capital in 2001, sets out to boost the global economy by lowering trade barriers, with an emphasis on increasing exports from developing countries, which rely heavily on producing farm products.
The talks were originally projected to finish at the end of 2004. The WTO's 149 members now hope to complete a deal by the end of this year, in time for the U.S. ''fast-track'' approval process which expires in mid-2007. Without that measure, which requires an up or down vote without amendments, it would be much harder to gain the approval of the U.S., the world's largest trading power.
The WTO hopes that countries will commit at this week's meeting to exactly how they plan to open up their farm and manufacturing markets to foreign competition. The gathering comes six months after a failed ministerial conference in Hong Kong, where countries made only minor agreements and pushed the tough decisions back until this summer.
A breakthrough still looks unlikely as rich and poor countries have been at a standstill for months.
WHO: Trade ministers from perhaps 60 WTO member states.
- G-20 GROUP OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: Led by Brazil and India, these nations are pushing for the 25-nation European Union to make significant tariff cuts on farm goods and the United States to make ''real cuts'' in the amount of government handouts to its farmers. They also are fighting to make only limited cuts in their own tariffs on imports of industrial goods, arguing that the round is supposed to address their needs.
- UNITED STATES: Says it has already made ''a bold proposal'' on cutting domestic farm support and argues that the EU and G-20 now need to make equally ambitious offers to move the negotiations forward. It wants Brussels to sharply reduce restrictions to farm imports and leading developing countries to further reduce their tariffs on manufactured products.
- EUROPEAN UNION: Says it is willing to make greater concessions, but only in concert with further moves by the G-20 and the United States. Argues Washington is demanding too much while offering too little in return. Negotiates alongside the U.S. for the G-20 to lower manufacturing tariffs.
- G-10 COUNTRIES: These nations consume more farm goods than they produce and could still thwart a deal if all other sides agree. The group _ which most significantly includes Japan _ has in the past opposed cuts to the high import tariffs they currently levy on agricultural goods.
- By The Associated Press