Geneva: World Trade Organization (WTO) mediators circulated new negotiating texts on Thursday that will serve as the blueprint for an outline deal in WTO’s long-running Doha Round, trade officials said.
They will form the basis for discussions when ministers meet in Geneva in the week of 21 July to try and agree on the outlines of a Doha deal, named after negotiations launched in Qatar’s capital in November 2001 to free up world trade. “These revised texts set the stage for a decisive moment in the Doha Round,” WTO director general Pascal Lamy said.
“A deal to open trade in agriculture and goods means more growth, better prospects for development and a more stable and predictable trading system. We must not let this opportunity slip through,” he said in a statement.
Decisive moment: Pascal Lamy, director general of WTO.
Lamy, a former European Union (EU) trade chief, called it the make-or-break meeting, as it is the last opportunity to reach a deal before a change in the US administration in January 2009 that may see the talks put on ice for years.
In Brussels, the European Commission said on Thursday that it welcomed positive steps made in the new negotiating texts but that “important gaps” still needed to be bridged. “We are committed to this negotiation, but we need serious efforts from our negotiating partners to reach a balanced agreement,” a spokesman for European trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a statement.
In Washington, US trade representative spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said that the Bush administration would be reviewing the texts. But the US said it was time that leading developing countries made market-opening offers “commensurate with their increasing participation and role in the world economy”.
Both mediators, New Zealand’s WTO ambassador Crawford Falconer for agriculture, and Canadian ambassador Don Stephenson for industry, told reporters they hoped to narrow the gaps further next week before ministers arrive.
Falconer said he was confident agreement could be reached reconciling the interests of tropical product exporters in Latin America with less developed growers in African, Caribbean and the Pacific countries seeking to maintain their preferential access to EU.
Brazil, one of the world’s leading agricultural producers and a major player in the trade talks, voiced misgivings about the new texts. “WTO papers will only produce a deal if the rich countries improve their offer, showing leadership and reducing trade barriers,” said Roberto Azevedo, Brazil’s chief trade negotiator.
The aim of the deal is to rewrite the rules of world trade, last codified in 1994, for the 21st century and remove distortions that developing countries say put them at a disadvantage. Agreement on farm and industrial goods—the most sensitive chapters—could open the way for deals in other areas such as services such as banking and telecoms as well as trade rules on subsidies and unfairly priced imports. A deal would see rich countries such as the US, Japan and EU members open up their food markets by reducing protection for their farmers. In return they will get greater access to markets of developing countries for industrial goods and services, especially in emerging nations such as India, Brazil, China and South Africa.
Any outline deal by ministers will be followed by months of detailed work translating it to individual goods and services, before ministers can sign off on a final agreement.
Over the past 10 months negotiators have edged closer on a range of technical issues, mainly in agriculture, but differences between rich and poor countries remain wide, particularly in industrial goods and services, where talks have not moved for nearly three years.
The texts issued by mediators on Thursday made no change to current proposed ranges for tariff and subsidy cuts for farm and industrial goods—a political decision that only ministers can take.
The new farm text set a tariff cap of 100% for developed countries—a key demand of poor countries—as part of complex technical arrangements still being negotiated on how countries can shield sensitive farm products fromtariff cuts. It also refined proposals for developing countries?to?shield?their?farm?sectors from sudden import surges or price collapses, and promote food and livelihood security and rural development.
In industry, the paper responded to rich-country concerns that new WTO members such as China were getting too long to implement any tariff cuts. The industrial goods text said that developing countries should not use waivers to tariff cuts to shield entire sectors from opening and proposed that ministers should negotiate a minimum number of tariff lines or percentage of imports in each sector that would be subject to full cuts.