Brussels: Ministers from trade powers might meet in late April or early May to seek a breakthrough in long-delayed negotiations for a global trade deal, the European Union’s farm chief said on Monday.
European agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said new compromise proposals on core areas of the talks might be floated at the end of March or in early April.
“Then, if it is possible to narrow down the outstanding issues, hopefully some of the extremely technical questions, then a ministerial could take place at the end of April or at the beginning of May,” she said.
More than six years of on-off negotiations for the WTO’s Doha global trade round are facing a latest make-or-break phase in the next few weeks as trade powers try to push for a deal ahead of the US elections.
The talks have missed deadline after deadline as rich and poor countries have argued about the size of concessions they would have to agree to in order to make a global deal possible.
But without a breakthrough soon, the round could be set back by several more years or collapse altogether due to the change in the White House in the United States and elections afterwards in other trade powers such as India.
The Doha Round was launched in 2001 to boost the global economy and ease poverty in developing countries.
As part of a WTO deal, the US, Europe and other rich countries would cut farm subsidies and import tariffs for agricultural goods in return for developing countries bringing down tariffs on goods such as cars or chemicals.
Fischer Boel said she felt “some progress should be possible” on the industrial goods part of the negotiation.
Ministers injected some fresh hope into the Doha Round in January when they said they hoped they could hold a ministerial meeting around Easter. But progress in technical negotiations since then has been slow.
France—the biggest recipient of Europe’s farm subsidies and a vocal critic of the European Commission’s tactics in the trade talks—plus some other EU countries on Monday repeated their warnings against rushing into what could be a bad deal. German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer also criticized the Commission for offering too much on agriculture in return for nothing in industrial goods or services.