By William French / AFP
Geneva: Top WTO negotiators headed for make-or-break talks on Friday, with progress needed on key sticking-points to avert another ignominious collapse of attempts to broker a new global free-trade pact.
After four days of negotiations, there was scant evidence of rich and poor countries finding common ground to end a seven-year stalemate in the World Trade Organization talks, but Friday is seen as critical.
“We will continue tomorrow and I think tomorrow ... is the day in which we must know whether it (a deal) is possible or not,” Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister and chief trade negotiator, said as talks finished Thursday.
“Maybe we don’t finish everything but we must have an agreement,” he added.
The World Trade Organization has convened a meeting here of 35 leading trade negotiators with the aim of mapping out a deal to conclude the long-delayed Doha Round of global trade talks.
The Doha Round began seven years ago with the aim of helping poor countries enjoy the fruits of freer global trade, but the process has been delayed by disputes between the rich developed world and poorer developing nations.
The United States Trade Representative, Susan Schwab, also said that Friday’s session would be decisive.
“We’ll see tomorrow whether everybody is prepared to do their share,” Schwab said.
“The US came here to make a deal. And we’ve been forthcoming. We will continue to stretch, to do our share,” she added.
On Tuesday, Washington offered to cut its official aid ceiling for its farmers to $15 billion a year — a move greeted by key developing economy India as welcome, but still inadequate.
Emerging and developed countries remain locked in a familiar pattern of demanding new moves from each other, with the success of this week’s gathering hinging on whether they can find common ground.
This brinkmanship has seen several previous meetings since 2001 collapse without a deal and one diplomatic source, who asked not to be named, raised the spectre of another failure on Thursday.
Costa Rican Trade Minister Marco Vinicio Ruiz urged trading powers to show flexibility to overcome sticking-points in order to avoid failure.
“Either we realise that the bottom lines that we defined before need to be revised or we defend them until the last number and make the negotiations collapse,” he said, according to a statement released by his office.
“The United States, the European Union, Japan, India, Brazil, Australia and China are to meet again for talks at midday on Friday before a larger gathering of all 35 invited ministers later in the day,” officials said.
India’s Commerce Minister Kamal Nath on Thursday said that the talks were only “inching forward rather than jumping.”
“The progress is the good part, if it’s slow it’s natural,” he said. Amorim also sought to portray the day’s talks in a positive light.
“So far there was no break up. There was engagement. There was interest in continuing,” Amorim said, saying he preferred a “constructive” attitude to one of pessimism.
“Time is running out. There is not much time and, of course, there is the limitation of physical fitness,” he added, in reference to the gruelling nature of talks here which finished at 4:00 am (0200 GMT) Thursday morning.
Any final deal, if approved by negotiators here, would then be proposed to all 153 WTO members who would have to ratify it individually. A failure would plunge the WTO into crisis and set back talks for many years, observers say.
After meetings of 35 invited delegations failed to deliver progress early in the week, WTO head Pascal Lamy has concentrated his efforts on trying to get a smaller group of seven leading trade powers to find common ground.
Eight delegations complained about the approach at a morning meeting, Rockwell said, with host nation Switzerland leading the criticism.
“You have put many of us ministers in the waiting room,” said Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard in a statement. She added that the exclusion of some countries was “very difficult for me to accept.”