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UN leader Ban Ki-moon led international appeals Monday for the major powers to make concessions to agree on a landmark conventional arms trade treaty as final negotiations started.
The 193 UN members have until March 28 to conclude an accord on the $80 billion a year trade in small arms, tanks, warships, combat aircraft, ammunition and missile launchers.
"The absence of the rule of law in the conventional arms trade defies explanation," Ban told the opening of the negotiating conference.
"We have international standards regulating everything from t-shirts to toys to tomatos. There are international regulations for furniture. That means there are common standards in the trade of arm chairs but not in arms," Ban said.
Ban said armed conflict kills more than 500,000 people a year and that some Latin American drug cartels are now better armed than the countries' armies where they operate.
"Now is the time for focus and political will to negotiate the final details of the treaty," Ban said.
The treaty would aim to force countries to evaluate, before making a sale, whether weapons will be used for human rights violations, or terrorism or organized crime.
An attempt to finalize an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in July last year failed with various countries, putting up obstacles. A compromise document was drawn up but the United States followed by Russia and others, said they needed more time to study the accord.
The United States remains opposed to including ammunition in an accord. Other major arms producers such as Russia and China have also taken a tough stance, diplomats said.
Some governments and lobby groups have been pressing hard for an accord. Oxfam said about 350,000 people have lost their lives in armed conflict since the last conference collapsed.
Diplomats at the talks are very cautious about the chance of reaching an accord, however.
"We do not know yet, at this stage, whether we will succeed," said Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, whose country has been one of seven leading nations behind the conference.
At the opening of the talks, Tuomioja appealed to all states to "be prepared to make compromises and find the political will to agree on the arms trade treaty. We owe it to ourselves and to the victims of armed conflicts and human rights violations."
Top Australian diplomat, Peter Woolcott, was elected chairman of the negotiations. "I am under no illusion about the challenges ahead," he said. "The expectations are high and our time is limited."
The inclusion of ammunition remains a major obstacle to an accord.
Tuomioja said that ammunition was "one of the core issues in the ATT and should be treated as such." He said the draft accord with ammunition left in annex, which would mean its trade was not monitored, was "inadequate."
The US State Department reaffirmed Friday that it opposes any treaty that includes ammunition because of the financial and administrative burden of keeping checks.
The United States is the biggest producer of ammunition. But the government is under pressure from the influential National Rifle Association, and other pressure groups, to oppose an accord.
"The United States is steadfast in its commitment to achieve a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty," said Secretary of State John Kerry.
But he added that his country, the world's top arms producer, could only agree on a "treaty that addresses international transfers of conventional arms solely."