The European Union on Monday called on the World Trade Organisation to slash customs tariffs on textiles, apparel and footwear to near zero.

Officials from Brussels said the EU "proposes that all members agree to deeper cuts for textiles, clothing, and footwear, with a view to bringing these tariffs within a narrow common range as close to zero as possible".

During a special session at the WTO's headquarters in Geneva, the EU also asked "that WTO members agree to reduce all tariff duties considerably by compressing them into a flatter range, within which tariff peaks and high tariffs are eliminated".

The request comes as the Spring 2003 deadline for trade talks launched by WTO ministers in Qatar a year-ago looms ever larger.