Geneva: World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy will release new drafts Monday aimed at liberalizing trade in agriculture and industrial products after negotiators made “significant progress” in bridging differences over the weekend.
“There’s been enormous convergence in the last few days and what is on the table is substantial,” Lamy told delegates in Geneva on the eighth day of a summit to lock up a trade deal. Negotiators have reached tentative agreement in areas including tropical products and trade-distorting payments to farmers, and progress in other areas “seems imminent,” he said.
Optimism has grown about the prospects for an accord since governments accepted proposals by Lamy two days ago as the basis for further talks. Trade ministers returned Sunday to thorny issues in the areas of agriculture and manufactured goods following a one-day shift to service-industry disputes, a priority for wealthy economies such as the US and the European Union.
WTO talks have moved in fits and starts since starting in November 2001 as industrialized and emerging markets clashed over how to open up trade. The 153-nation organization is now closer to a deal than it’s ever been, said David Ivey, a partner with Baker Hostetler who specializes in international trade.
“They gave it a long, hard week and if there was not a belief that the potential for a deal was real, they would have had a justified reason to kill it last week,” he said by telephone from Houston on Sunday. “I’m a lot more hopeful that a deal of substance can be reached than I was last week.”
The US painted a darker picture. David Shark, a US trade official, said that while the Bush administration had “swallowed hard and accepted” Lamy’s compromise, India’s immediate rejection of the package and a decision by China to “walk away from it” could scuttle any deal.
“Their actions have thrown the entire round into the gravest jeopardy of its nearly seven-year life,” Shark told ministers and diplomats. “All their invocations of development during the past years ring hollow when these major players threaten the development benefits already on the table that are absolutely vital to the vast majority of the membership.”
Sunjay Sudhir, a counselor at India’s permanent mission to the WTO, rejected Shark’s remarks. India has shown “considerable flexibility with the objective of enabling the negotiations to move ahead toward conclusion”, he said.
China also dismissed the criticism, saying it’s made concessions that demonstrate its commitment to a global trade deal and willingness to compromise.
“We have tried very hard to contribute to the success of the round,” said WTO ambassador Sun Zhenyu.
Discussions among the roughly three dozen key nations are likely to continue at least through the middle of this week.