Paris: Ministers from major trading powers decided on Thursday to redouble efforts for a deal in the stalled Doha round, arguing that opening up global trade would boost the world economy without hitting budgets.
They acknowledged the 8-1/2-year-old Doha round was at an impasse and that serious negotiations -- away from the glare of the media and public diplomacy -- were now needed to break the deadlock.
Australian trade minister Simon Crean said ministers meeting on the sidelines of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forum in Paris had held frank discussions about the difficulties they faced.
“All of the evidence points to the significance of trade and the liberalization agenda that facilitates trade being an important economic stimulus -- a stimulus that does not impact upon budgets,” Crean told a briefing after hosting the meeting.
“And we will keep at it. We won’t be deterred simply by the difficulty because the outcome is too important to sustainable economic recovery,” he said.
Not economically compelling
WTO members launched the Doha round in 2001 to free up world commerce and help poor countries prosper through more trade.
The outlines of a deal are clear: rich countries will remove barriers to their food markets and cut trade-distorting farm subsidies while developing countries, except the poorest, open their markets to more goods and services.
But agreeing an overall package has proven impossible so far, with the United States arguing that big emerging economies such as Brazil, China and India -- who have benefited from the last trade opening and are now major players in the global economy -- should do more to facilitate a deal.
The United States wants the emerging giants to open up their markets more to goods -- from cars to chemicals and services to banking and express delivery -- in return for Washington paying farmers less to produce crops such as wheat and soybeans.
US trade representative Ron Kirk repeated that call on Thursday, saying the current draft package was not economically compelling and real, substantive negotiations were now needed.
Kirk categorically rejected the idea that the United States should make a “pre-payment” to get those negotiations moving, pointing to concessions already made by the US in agriculture.
But Kirk made it clear that the United States was ready for further concessions once those negotiations start in order to get a satisfactory deal.
“We have asked everyone to engage with us in honest, very tough negotiations -- we’ll do that,” he told reporters.
Ministers agreed the WTO’s 153 members should now broaden the Doha talks to look at the overall package rather than individual sectors such as agriculture or manufactured goods.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said it was important to make progress on trade in services and environmental goods and on fisheries subsidies, where gaps remain wide.
Negotiations may also take place in small groups or bilaterally, allowing countries to test what partners are willing to offer, rather than in large meetings where members often fall back on stock positions.
Both Crean and Lamy said they hoped next week’s meeting of trade ministers of the Asia-Pacific grouping APEC, and the G-20 summit in Toronto next month would add momentum to the talks.