Kamal Nath, Indian commerce minister, said the discussions in India will help efforts by Pascal Lamy, the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) chief, and trade diplomats in Geneva to hammer out a new trade accord and further liberalise global commerce.

"From these meetings, inputs will go to chairpersons of various negotiating groups [within WTO] and add momentum to the Geneva process," Nath said.

 

Closed-door sessions

 

"The scene is quite dismal. There seems to be very little meeting ground on some of the major issues" 

Pradeep Mehta, head of CUTS International

Participants were scheduled to hold closed-door bilateral meetings on Wednesday before holding a formal dialogue with Japan and Australia on Thursday.

 

Peter Mandelson, the European Union trade commissioner, said he was going into the talks with a positive and flexible approach, but declined to predict any possible outcome.

 

"I shall know how hopeful I am once the talks begin," Mandelson told reporters before a meeting with Susan Schwab, the United States trade representative.

 

"[We are] Always positive ... always showing flexibility and I would do my best to sustain that position on behalf of the EU."

 

The participants are expected to seek agreement on key issues such as agricultural subsidies and tariffs, measures to enhance exports from so-called least-developed countries and concessions for poorer nations wanting to protect some of their domestic industries.

 

Most trade analysts, however, remain sceptical about any important outcome at the talks in New Delhi.

 

Pradeep Mehta, head of CUTS International, an Indian trade research group, said: "The scene is quite dismal. There seems to be very little meeting ground on some of the major issues."