Trade ministers from the European Union, the US, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia didn’t arrive at an agreement, but at a meeting on Thursday, left the door open, stating that they hoped to arrive at one by December 2007.
“The meeting in New Delhi inaugurates a new phase of our discussion. We believe that by intensifying our work, we can reach convergence and thus contribute to concluding the round by the end of 2007,” a statement issued by the trade ministers of the six countries said. When that happens, it will end the Doha round of negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath said the objective of the meeting had not been to arrive at an agreement but to take stock. “We have addressed areas where we have made progress and how best we can narrow down our differences,” he said. EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said that one would see a change in tempo and method of negotiations in the coming weeks.
The announcement of a new deadline came at the end of two days of bilateral and multilateral deliberations of the G-3 (EU, India and Brazil), the G-4 (G-3 plus US) and the G-6 (G-4 plus Japan and Australia), despite no major concessions from any of the countries.
Negotiations are expected to go slow after December because of the presidential elections in the US, which could be one reason for the urgency displayed by most countries involved in the negotiations. “Actually, even with the change in Congress, leading Democrats as well as leading Republicans have made clear their commitment to the global rule-based multilateral trading system. And if there is a Doha round breakthrough, I think we can be optimistic about the US Congress’ willingness to implement that,” said Susan Schwab, the US trade representative.
“WTO director general Pascal Lamy may push the chairmen of agriculture and industrial goods to submit some reference papers by the end of the month in order to give an impetus to the talks. Once the draft text is prepared by the two chairs, trade ministers from the key 28 countries could be asked to sit down and develop positions on it,” said a trade negotiator who did not wish to be identified.
Indian government officials said that the US had asked India to specify the duty cuts it would be willing to undertake on ‘special products’. “The bottom-up approach is not acceptable since the WTO mandate is that developing countries will undertake two-thirds of the duty cuts that the developed countries offer. Therefore, it is for the developed countries to make the first offer (for duty cuts) on special products,” said the negotiator.
Asked if the US sensed any change in the Indian position with regard to special products, Schwab told Mint, “I think all of us recognize that we need to be sensitive to each other’s sensitivities. But we need to be also ambitious as we are capable of being, whether it is the US commitment to domestic subsidies or agricultural market access by India and the EU.”
The G-4 countries are expected to write to Lamy today signalling their commitment to the talks and stating that a meeting of their ministers and officials will be scheduled for May.