Potsdam, Germany: The four key players in the World Trade Organization — the US, the European Union, Brazil and India — arrived in Potsdam outside the German capital on 19 June for critical talks to break deadlock over a global trade deal.
The “G4” group will meet “with their backs against the wall,” said a Geneva-based diplomat, with all players mindful that a similar meeting last year got nowhere and ultimately led to the suspension of negotiations for all of the WTO’s 150 members.
The talks are expected to continue until the weekend.
Germany, which holds the EU presidency until the end of this month, invited EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim to meet at the Cecilienhof palace in Potsdam.
Amorim has warned that this meeting would be “decisive”.
The delegates will certainly feel the weight of history on their shoulders, as it was at Cecilienhof that the Allied leaders Churchill, Stalin and Truman met in 1945: the issue then was the division of post-war Europe after the defeat of Nazi Germany. The purpose of these talks now is to open the world up further to trade.
“It’s not an innocent choice” of venue, the Geneva-based diplomat noted, adding that the EU was seeking to heighten the historical resonance of the meeting.
Contemporary concerns will also be evident, with agricultural and anti-globalization campaigners due to protest outside the Cecilienhof later on 19 June.
“We want a democratically controlled trade policy that does not bend to global corporate interests but that promotes the rights of the people for an environmentally sustainable and socially just development,” the activists said in a statement.
The G4 powers represent a range of poor and rich country interests at the WTO. An agreement among them on the concessions needed to cut barriers to trade in agriculture and industrial goods is seen as essential to draw in the other members.
Negotiations to conclude a trade liberalisation deal, which is mainly meant to provide an economic boost for developing nations, have missed several deadlines since the current Doha round was launched to great fanfare in the Qatari capital in 2001.
Developing countries and wealthy nations are largely at loggerheads over the degree of state support for agricultural markets along with the level of protection against imports, primarily in the EU and the US.
Rich nations are also looking for more concessions from developing nations on access to their markets for industrial goods or for services companies.
The WTO is now hoping to reach an agreement by the end of the year. Under the organisation’s rules, it must be approved by consensus and even a single dissenting voice can block it.
Even so, agreement between the G4 members is seen as crucial if any final deal is to be reached.
On 18 June, EU commissioner Mandelson urged the 27 members of the bloc to allow him maximum flexibility in the talks, in the hope of reaching a deal.
“If each partner negotiates to the limits of their flexibility,” then the talks will be a success, Mandelson told EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
Alternatively there could be the sort of “incremental progress” which falls short of an agreement, in which case a further G4 meeting could be held in July.
The US took a more low-key approach, with spokesman Sean Spicer saying only that the meeting will show “that there is some progress and that we will meet again.”
The Potsdam meeting will take place entirely behind closed doors, and it is not yet even known if there will be a final press conference.