New Delhi: Key trade ministers agreed on Friday to relaunch the World Trade Organization’s Doha talks with intensified negotiations later this month, Union commerce minister Anand Sharma said on Friday.
WTO members’ chief negotiators will meet in Geneva from 14 September, in the run-up to the Pittsburgh G20 summit, to grapple with outstanding issues in the talks, now in their eighth year, with the aim of completing the round by 2010, he said.
“We have reached an agreement to intensify the negotiations,” Sharma told a news conference after two days of talks hosted by an India keen to throw off its reputation as the spoiler of the talks and underline its leadership role.
“There has been a breakthrough in this meeting... The impasse in resuming the negotiations have been broken.”
Political leaders have called repeatedly in recent months to conclude the Doha round, launched in 2001 to help developing countries grow by opening trade, to help pull the world out of the economic crisis and fight protectionism.
“What India has done is to weave these strands together into a single initiative translating into action,” Sharma said.
The Delhi meeting did not look at any of the specific issues that remain open, such as a safeguard to help farmers in poor countries cope with a flood of imports, or proposals to eliminate duties entirely in some industrial sectors.
That will be up to the negotiators, but Sharma expressed confidence that such issues could be resolved around the negotiating table if countries were willing.
The talks will resume on the basis of the draft negotiating texts issued in December 2008.
That should provide comfort to WTO members from Brazil to the European Union who had feared that the United States wanted to unpick what has already been agreed over the past seven years, jeopardising the emerging deal.
Both Sharma and US trade representative Ron Kirk said it would be wrong to throw away the work achieved so far, but stressed that the texts were drafts and could be improved.
Kirk noted that the texts were still full of blanks, where WTO members had not yet found common ground.
“Obviously we’ve got to put some meat on the bones in that case. It has never been our argument that we should start all over again or reopen them, but we have to have some idea of what those gaps and blanks are,” he told Reuters.
Ministers also reiterated that the talks had to be multilateral, since any deal must be signed off by all 153 WTO members.
But Sharma said ministers had agreed there was a role for one-on-one contacts or talks in small groups to help countries understand better what their partners wanted and could offer.
For the United States, these bilateral contacts are the key to taking the stalled talks forward, Kirk told a news conference.