Nusa Dua, Indonesia: “Eight torturous years of talks over a new global trade pact should reach a conclusion next year after changes in the US and Indian governments,” World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy said on Tuesday.
Lamy informed that the top US and Indian trade representatives have agreed to reset the stalled Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a conference of agricultural exporters in Indonesia.
“We had not had that clear signal of reset until now. What I got from here is that. Yes, we should conclude this by 2010,” he said after three days of trade talks on Bali island.
US trade representative Ron Kirk, the former Dallas mayor who was appointed by President Barack Obama in March, met the new Indian trade minister, Anand Sharma, for the first time on Monday.
“What I saw is Ron Kirk and Anand Sharma clearly engaging in a process that should lead to the conclusion of the round some time next year,” Lamy said, describing the Bali meeting as significant.
Kirk avoided specifics about his meeting with Sharma but said that the US was committed to outlining a new basis for Doha negotiations by August, when the WTO begins its summer break.
“Doing nothing, rejecting pursuing an alternative to what we have been doing for the past three rounds is in fact a decision that leads to a failure of Doha, and that is not an acceptable conclusion,” he said.
Kirk said that it was time for a fresh approach to conclude the Doha Round as a stimulus for recovery from the global economic crisis. The round collapsed in July last year amid differences between India and the US.
Kirk was speaking at the end of a ministerial-level conference of the 19 member Cairns Group, which accounts for 25% of the world’s agricultural trade and supports open markets.
Although US is not a member of the group, he said he fully endorsed its joint communique calling for world leaders to show the political will to re-start the Doha negotiations.
“We are in agreement with our colleagues here that we should begin in earnest,” Kirk said.
The Cairns Group ministers said senior negotiators should convene at WTO headquarters in Geneva as soon as possible to map out a clear path towards the negotiations, and to start down that path before the European summer break.
Washington’s refusal to accept Indian demands for measures to protect vulnerable industries from a flood of cheap imports contributed to the failure of the last round of Doha negotiations in Geneva last July.
Lamy said that 80% of the global deal was done, but significant obstacles remained especially regarding tariffs and market access, with some countries wanting to protect vulnerable industries and others wanting new markets.
“We are not looking at the difficulties, we are looking at the possibilities, to do our best and take this process to its culmination,” Indian minister for commerce and industry Anand Sharma said after his meeting with Kirk on Monday.
“There are no obstacles which are insurmountable,” he said.
The two met informally in a quiet villa on the edge of a vast luxury resort overlooking Bali’s coral-fringed beaches, away from the media glare and spotlight typically associated with WTO jamborees.
During his first trip to the WTO in May, Kirk spoke about the need to consider changes to the process of the negotiations.
“Whatever vehicle we’ve all been loaded on to get to Doha hasn’t gotten us there,” he said.
The Indian minister said that he would go to Washington mid-June for follow-up talks with Kirk.
The Doha round of talks started in Qatar in 2001 with the aim of removing trade barriers and subsidies, particularly in agriculture, by 2013.
Australian trade minister Simon Crean, who was chairing the Cairns Group meeting, said that he was enormously encouraged by the willingness of the US and Indian representatives to re-engage.
But the group said it was deeply disappointed by Washington’s recent decision to reintroduce dairy export subsidies in response to similar action by the European Union.