Four ministers and 42 aides form British delegation visiting Cancun

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Indy Politics

Britain is sending a 46-strong delegation of ministers and officials to the WTO talks in Cancun. Estimates have put the cost of the trip at upwards of £50,000, but the Department of Trade and Industry refused to give the total cost of the trip.

Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, will be joined at the conference by Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, Mike O'Brien, a Foreign Office minister, and Baroness Amos, the International Development Secretary.

Forty-two British civil servants will also attend, but the DTI was at pains to point out yesterday that the delegation was two thirds the size of entourages from Italy and Germany.

Officials said that the hotels had been booked at a discounted rate, while the flights were on charters arranged by the European Commission.

The spokeswoman said that the two hotels being used were within the EU's operational centre for the conference and chosen because they were close to the Cancun conference centre itself. Both hotels were within the security zone required for the event.

Tim Yeo, the shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, was unimpressed. "At a trade conference dedicated to solving the problems of the world's poor, there is a certain irony that so many ministers have to fly half way round the world to stay in expensive hotels and feed in the finest restaurants," he said. "The people this conference is supposed to help would goggle with amazement if they could see what is going on.

"With Europe handling so much of our trade negotiations, it's highly questionable whether an individual nation like Britain needs to send such a large delegation."

Ministers will be staying at the Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach Hotel, where executive suites with views over the Caribbean are each fitted with personal steam and spa baths. The most basic rooms normally cost guests £150 a night.

The Government says that the Cancun summit is not "make or break" but states that it "must provide strong political impetus" to implement the Doha Development Agenda by 1 January 2005.

CHANGING THE RULES OF TRADE

1947 Geneva: 23 nations sign General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, leading to 45,000 tariff concessions, affecting $10bnof world trade.

1973-1979: Tokyo, 102 nations. Tariff reductions of more than $300bn. Agreement to reduce trade barriers, subsidies and import licensing.

1986-1993: Uruguay, 123 nations. Extension of trade negotiations, applying fair trade rules to agriculture, textiles, ervices and intellectual property rights.

1995 Geneva: World Trade Organisation set up with 112 countries. Five aims: to facilitate Uruguay round; provide a forum for trade talks and implementation of results; dispute settlement procedures; administer to trade policy review mechanism; greater coherence in global economic policy making.

1999 Seattle, USA: New trade round is disrupted by violent street protests,left.

2001: Agreement to open negotiations on agricultural and manufactured goods markets. China and Taiwan are admitted.

August 2003: Developing countries allowed to import cheap generic medicines to tackle serious health problems.

September 2003: Cancun, Mexico.

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