Geneva: A group of powerful trade ministers have agreed to wrap up the Doha Development Agenda negotiations by the end of this year by lowering their sights, and move on to new issues, people familiar with the plan said.

The development could pave the way for pursuing sectoral agreements in trade and investment, trade and competition policy, and e-commerce, among other areas.

The decision came at a meeting on the margins of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting last week in Davos, Switzerland.

Trade ministers of the US, the European Union, New Zealand, South Africa, and World Trade Organization (WTO) director general Roberto Azevedo, among others, broadly agreed to scale down expectations to conclude Doha negotiations at the WTO’s 10th ministerial conference in Nairobi, Kenya, people familiar with the meeting’s outcome said.

US trade representative Michael Froman, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, New Zealand trade minister Tim Groser, South African trade minister Rob Davies, Azevedo and others discussed the broad contours of what is doable in the unfinished negotiations over dinner on Friday.

On Saturday, at an informal meeting hosted by the Swiss government, the trade ministers announced their intent to conclude the Doha negotiations based on re-calibration, a euphemism to lower the level of ambition, and what is doable during the next 11 months.

The participants drawn from both advanced and developing countries agreed to accelerate negotiations to draw up the precise modalities in agriculture, industrial goods and services by the end of July with the aim of concluding a final agreement on 15 December at the WTO conference in Nairobi.

The modalities will suggest the level of tariffs and subsidy reduction commitments in agriculture and tariff cuts in industrial goods, and the broad commitments in trade in services.

“We concurred that by July a detailed work programme will have to be defined, setting out a credible and realistic path towards a conclusion of the Doha Development Round," Switzerland’s economic affairs minister Johann N. Schneider-Ammann said at the end of the meeting.

Countries that took part in the informal meeting include the US, the EU, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, Russia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Turkey and Thailand.

India did not attend the meeting.

“Many members have expressed a desire to put Doha behind us and move on to other issues," South Africa’s Davies said. “Now there is an attempt to start serious dialogue which will identify what I can do and what I cannot do—basically doable versus not doable."

The Doha negotiations were launched in 2001 by the US and the EU immediately after the 9/11 terror attack in New York.

Despite intense opposition from several developing countries, particularly India, to the launch of the new broad-based Doha negotiations before implementation of the Uruguay Round commitments, the US and the EU went ahead, promising developing countries that their bread-and-butter concerns in agriculture and other issues will be adequately addressed.

But after 13 years of negotiations, an attempt will now be made to reduce the level of commitments to a minimum from the grand scheme of promises made in 2001, the July 2004 framework agreement, the 2005 Hong Kong ministerial declaration, and the 2008 revised draft modalities in agriculture and industrial goods.

The big industrialized countries, particularly the US, have raised fundamental opposition to the 2008 revised modalities on the ground that the realities in the global trading system have changed with the emergence of China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia as major trading nations.

“The current negotiations, known as the ‘Doha Round’, began in 2001 and haven’t kept pace with tectonic shifts in the global economy, most notably the rise of emerging economies," Froman wrote a day before the Davos meeting.

The US and other industrialized countries insisted that emerging countries must undertake ambitious commitments in agriculture, industrial goods and services, contrary to what was mandated in the Doha agenda.

Developing countries are upset over the concerted attempts to change the goal posts since 2008, but are not in a position to resist the onslaught from the powerful countries at this juncture, a South American trade envoy said on condition of anonymity.

Against this backdrop, it is not realistically possible to achieve ambitious results in the Doha Round without what is called re-calibration of the level of ambition.

“Re-calibration would require a more honest and conducive dialogue," said the South African trade minister.

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