Penny Macrae, AFP
New Delhi: India, the United States and other key trading players assemble here on Wednesday in an attempt to salvage global trade talks aimed at lifting millions out of poverty.
But hopes are slim that any breakthrough will emerge from the negotiations gathering representatives from the group of influential trading powers — the European Union, the United States, Brazil and India, analysts said.
The most that can be hoped “is for people to come on the same page and agree there is a need to move forward,” said T.S. Vishwanath, head of international trade policy at the Confederation of Indian Industry.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is seeking to conjure up agreement in the Doha Round of talks before the end of June when the fast track trade negotiating powers of US President George Bush are set to expire.
“If we are to use the remaining window of opportunity open to us, we need to intensify and accelerate the process of negotiation,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said ahead of the gathering.
“If we fail, Doha’s prospects for this year will be lost,” he warned.
The ministers will focus on the knotty issues of agriculture subsidies and tariffs in bilateral meetings Wednesday and will gather for four-way talks on Thursday.
The sessions will be attended by Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, US trade representative Susan Schwab and Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim.
If a breakthrough can be achieved by June, a conclusion to the Doha talks, called a once-in-a-generation chance to help bring millions out of poverty, could be reached in about eight months, WTO officials say.
Otherwise the Doha round, launched in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001, risks years of delay.
“There doesn’t seem to be any willingness to compromise so in in that kind of situation, it’s difficult to expect any favourable outcome,” said D.H. Pai Panandiker, president of the RPG Foundation, an Indian economic think-tank.
India and Brazil have emerged as leaders in the developing world’s challenge to the wealthy nations to curtail generous farm subsidies.
The deadlock over attempts to cut down subsidies and import tariffs on farm products is regarded as the key stumbling block to expanding free and fair trade, which also covers industrial goods and services.
India’s Nath has said there is “no commitment by India on the deadline” and has said he would prefer no deal to a “bad deal.”
“We are hoping for movement but we need to see how much much other countries are willing to meet the needs of the developing nations,” an Indian government spokesman told AFP.
The talks ground to a halt last July but all sides stress they are still committed to a successful outcome.
Developing nations are being pressed to open their markets wider to industrial goods and services while the developed countries are supposed to cut farm support and allow in more agricultural goods in return.
India and other developing nations fear that their fledgling industries will be overwhelmed if their markets are forced open to much more advanced countries.
At the same time, they are concerned to protect the livelihoods of their huge farming populations. Up to 80 percent of the workforces in developing nations depend on agriculture.
An agreement among the world’s two biggest trading powers, the United States and EU, and the two leading developing nations India and Brazil, is seen as vital to hopes of brokering a compromise among the WTO’s 150 members this year.