Ministers from 40 developed and developing countries begin “now or never” talks in Geneva later today designed to secure a breakthrough in the seven-year-old Doha round of global trade liberalisation negotiations.

Western ministers and the World Bank claim that success in the Doha round will deliver at least ˆ100bn (£79.68bn) in new trade flows, mainly for the benefit of the world’s poorest countries, but development campaigners assert the talks will do nothing to solve the global food crisis and will increase poverty and hunger.

“Soaring fuel and food prices are a stark reminder of the continuing inequalities of global agriculture trade. Developed countries are today responsible for the greatest distortions in the global trading system,” Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Egyptian trade minister, said. He urged western nations to make the necessary policy changes.

Both Peter Mandelson, EU trade commissioner, and his US counterpart, Susan Schwab, have said they enter the talks with the aim of securing a deal and an agreement has moved closer in the past few weeks. But they have collapsed at least three times since they began in late 2001.

Mandelson, however, is up against the limits of his mandate in cutting EU farm tariffs and subsidies, including for “sensitive” products such as beef, after a series of rows with French president Nicholas Sarkozy while Schwab is under pressure from an increasingly protectionist Congress which has passed a highly restrictive new Farm Bill. The US, even so, is being urged to slash subsidies for its corn and cotton farmers.

The EU and US want emerging economies such as China – held responsible for much of the food and fuel crisis – to open up their industrial and services markets in exchange for concessions on agriculture. Michael Glos, German economy mijnister, said countries such as Brazil, India and China should not hide behind the label of a developing country. “Greater market access should not be a one-way street,” he told FT Deutschland.

The EU and US insist that the poorest developing countries stand to gain the greatest benefits from freer trade without being asked to expose their agriculture to greater competition.

But ActionAid campaigner Claire Melamed said: “Over the last eight years every single trade promise to the poor has been broken and development issues never take centre stage. In fact, they have been progressively margionalised.” War on Want said the talks could simply hand even greater control over scarce food resources to multinational groups.