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Mexico City gears up for trouble

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MEXICO CITY — Trade ministers from around the world held meetings Friday in Mexico City, kicking off a weekend gathering aimed at helping start a new round of global trade talks that stalled in Seattle two years ago.

Riot police confronted a few dozen protesters earlier Friday in front of Mexico's National Auditorium, but no major violence was reported. Anti-globalization groups have accused the Mexican government of trying to limit access to the meeting by keeping most details secret.

However, a scattering of protesters had discovered by Friday where the ministers were staying and gathered outside the swank hotel, one carrying a sign that read: "Capitalism Kills."

Mexican President Vicente Fox invited representatives from 15 countries, Hong Kong and the European Union to hold informal talks on everything from agricultural subsidies to the environment — a few of the stumbling blocks to a new round of global trade talks.

The last round of trade talks, which finished in 1994, led to the World Trade Organization's creation in 1995.

Ministers tried to launch a new round in 1999 in Seattle, but failed to agree on an agenda amid riots.

On Friday, WTO director-general Mike Moore as well as officials from the United States, Egypt, India, Japan, the European Union, Hong Kong and Brazil held separate meetings with Mexican Economy Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez.

Moore said Friday there were still "substantial differences" between the WTO's 142 members but he was optimistic participants would make progress toward a new round of trade talks.

"I hope in this meeting and other ministerial meetings in the next few weeks, that ministers can get to understand each other's needs better. We need a balanced result," Moore told reporters.

Some WTO members argue a new round of trade talks will help stimulate sagging economies, but many developing countries say they have yet to see the benefits of the 1994 agreements.

Poorer nations want greater access to the markets of the industrialized world, and have argued that any new talks should include discussions on antidumping rules, which try to block countries from flooding other markets with cheap goods.

On the Net: www.wto.org

Mexico's presidential Web site in English: www.presidencia.gob.mx