Nusa Dua, Indonesia: The US and India, whose argument over agriculture subsidies scuttled a new global trade agreement last year, held positive talks on Monday at a meeting of leading agricultural exporters in Bali.
Conciliatory style: Ron Kirk (left) and Anand Sharma on Monday. Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP
“The discussions have been very positive and centred on a shared commitment to take things forward,” Indian commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma told Reuters.
A spokeswoman for US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who took up his job in March, said the talks between Kirk and Sharma on the sidelines of the Cairns Group meeting were “very friendly”. She did not elaborate.
Trade ministers came close in July 2008 to a deal on the Doha round of talks, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 to help poor countries prosper through trade.
But the talks collapsed over differences between Washington and emerging economies spearheaded by India over proposals to help farmers in poor nations cope with surges in imports.
The Obama administration is conducting a review of US trade policy, including efforts to reach a deal on Doha, and some of America’s trading partners have been impressed by Kirk’s conciliatory style, though they are waiting to see the substance.
Carol Guthrie, Kirk’s spokeswoman, said the former Dallas mayor and World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy talked informally at a dinner of ministers on Sunday night.
The Doha deal is estimated to be worth $150 billion for the world economy and is considered even more important now that the world is facing its worst economic crisis in decades.
Sharma said he and Kirk did not get down to discussing positions on the issues before them.
“I had a very good meeting with Ron Kirk. We did not discuss specifics, only the broader aim to take the process forward. We didn’t discuss positions, we discussed the principles.
“I can’t put a timeframe on when the Doha round will be concluded. More important is the shared expressed hope and political will.”
Lamy was due on Monday to brief the Cairns Group -- 19 nations accounting for more than 25 percent of the world’s agricultural exports -- about the global trade talks at their Bali meeting, officials said.
Australia’s trade minister Simon Crean, who is chairing the meeting, said there was a “clear commitment” from the United States and the Cairns Group to re-engage on stalled world trade talks before the end of July.
Indonesian finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said new US and Indian trade figures would provide a “fresh perspective on how the issues in global trade can be solved”.
Muhammad Zia-ur-Rehman, secretary of Pakistan’s ministry of food, agriculture and livestock, said negotiations on a proposed “special safeguard mechanism” -- under which developing nations could temporarily raise tariffs on imported goods when prices on their own produce drop -- had stalled but there was hope of reviving them this week.
Zia-ur-Rehman also said US and European Union farm subsidies continued to be the sticking point in negotiations after both introduced dairy export subsidies this year.
Lamy, who has been trying to edge countries back to the table for full-fledged negotiations, said in late May enough time had passed to have another shot at a global free trade deal.
The Cairns Group consists of Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Uruguay.