Jakarta: The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) said on Wednesday he sees “good signs” for calling a meeting to conclude the Doha Round of global trade talks, but added “we’re not there yet” as compromise is needed from all sides.
WTO director-general Pascal Lamy made the comments to Reuters on the sidelines of a trade conference in Indonesia.
Lamy had said earlier that he sensed fresh determination to conclude the Round, but would wait for more substance before calling trade ministers together for that purpose.
Asked in Jakarta where the process stood, he said, “I think it’s cooking, and I have sort of good signs coming from the kitchen, but we’re not yet there, the date when the dish can be served.”
“I think we need a bit more of this bilateral cooking between the European Union, United States, Brazil (and) India,” he said, referring to major trade powers whose willingness to make concessions is critical to a world agreement to further liberalise trade.
“They want to conclude the deal but we know that you don’t conclude a deal with good will. You conclude it with precise numbers,” Lamy said.
One factor in the minds of negotiators is the US President George W. Bush’s authority for fast-track trade negotiations that make it easier for the US to reach agreements only runs through June, unless the Congress renews it. That is not a certainty with the US Congress now controlled by the opposition Democrats.
“There is a sort of basic agreement within the WTO that having this breakthrough before the US president’s authority to negotiate expires is very important,” Lamy said.
In a speech to the conference, where he emphasised the need for all sides to make concessions, Lamy said, “Success is now a question of months away, not quarters or semesters, in particular given the upcoming expiry of the US Trade Promotion Authority.” Concessions must not only come from developed countries, he added.
The G-33 developing nations group, for example, wants 20% of tariff lines sheltered from duty cuts. Others say that gives too much freedom to continue protectionist policies.
“They will have to move from this extreme position which has been their starting position, like the US will have to move on their (agricultural) subsidies or like the EU will have to move on its tariffs.”
Some analysts say the proposed US domestic farm programme for 2007 does not go far enough to cut trade-distorting subsidies and was not a good sign for international negotiations. However, Lamy said the legislation at least appeared to be moving in the right direction, but “at the end of the day what will be negotiated around the WTO table will prevail over farm bill results”.
Agricultural issues are among the main areas of contention for many countries—developed, developing and undeveloped—and took most of the blame when the Doha Round, launched in 2001, ground to an acrimonious halt last July.
“Lamy’s visit is a form of pressure on the Indonesian government to lobby for market access, especially for agricultural products,” said Amalia Pulungan, programme officer at the Institute for Global Justice in Jakarta. “(The visit) deals with the future of tens of millions of farmers who rely on agricultural products,” she told reporters at the hotel where the conference was held, as several hundred Indonesians with a similar viewpoint demonstrated outside.
Lamy said he knew trade liberalisation could be disruptive to some farmers, such as subsistence rice producers in Indonesia, and that must be considered in the way reform was implemented. However, he said, the negotiations could also improve markets for agricultural producers.
“If more market access for palm oil is available as a result of this negotiation, this is very good news for a country like Indonesia,” Lamy said.
As a whole, he said, all parties including poorer nations would be better off if the Doha Round succeeds, while “if it were to fail, it would be bad news for many people”.
Fitri Wulandari contributed to this report