WEF | Trade ministers urged to prod Doha talks

WEF | Trade ministers urged to prod Doha talks

Davos: Trade ministers meeting on Friday must give negotiators in the long-running Doha talks the green light to make more concessions for a deal that all can sell to their voters, trade policy-makers said.

The European Union, the world’s biggest exporter, is hosting a dinner for trade ministers from the other key players -- Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan and the United States -- during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

The seven will take stock of the Doha round. members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed to intensify the pace of negotiations, already in their 10th year, after the G-20 urged them to use 2011 as a window of opportunity to reach a deal.

“What we will try to get from ministers is acceleration," said WTO director-general Pascal Lamy. He will not attend Friday’s dinner, but will take part in another meeting of some 25 ministers, including the seven, on Saturday.

The host of Friday’s dinner, EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht, agreed further moves are needed by all players.

“Everyone around the table realises that if you negotiate it’s about give and take. There’s nothing bad about a compromise," he told Reuters.

The Doha round was launched in late 2001 to boost the world economy and help poor countries prosper through trade.

While economists differ over the impact of opening markets in food, industrial goods from cars to chemicals, and services such as banking and law, several studies show that a new trade agreement could add hundreds of billions of dollars to the world economy, bolstering business sentiment.

Make or Break

“2011 is the make or break year," British Prime Minister David Cameron told the annual World Economic Forum meeting, calling for more concessions by all sides to reach a deal.

The wide-ranging and complex talks have missed repeated deadlines and some negotiators say 2011 will go the same way, perhaps dooming the negotiations altogether.

But in recent months the talks in Geneva have moved up a gear and some believe the necessary trade-offs are now possible.

“There seems to be a general acceptance that what is needed to bring Doha to a successful conclusion is for the major countries to bring a little bit more to the table," Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson told Reuters.

Emerson said Australia, one of the keenest proponents of a deal, does not believe that it is the one blocking agreement, but would consider further concessions as part of a final push.

“If it’s a matter of the demonstration of good faith and everyone bringing more to the table then Australia would be a willing participant in that," Emerson said.

For instance Australia could consider making further cuts in its already low tariffs, or accepting binding restrictions on the role of AWB, the former monopoly exporter, he suggested.

In the end the deal will require bilateral agreement between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies.

But it is much more complicated than that, with competitive exporters among the emerging economies wanting to boost South-South trade by opening markets as well.

Anabel Gonzalez, foreign trade minister of Costa Rica, said small export-reliant developing countries like hers believed that trade was an important means of development and access to markets in both rich and poor countries was vital.

Costa Rica wants a Doha agreement this year and is ready to play its part too, she told Reuters.

But there is no sign so far of progress narrowing gaps on proposals allowing developing countries to limit imports of food, which contributed to the collapse of a meeting of ministers to push for a deal in 2008, said Gonzalez, who was a top WTO agriculture official during that meeting.

“That continues to be a very contentious issue," she said.

And in Geneva, representatives of poor countries called for an acceleration of negotiations on cotton that will lead to a big cut in U.S. trade-distorting subsidies. Many see such cuts as a touchstone of Doha’s ability to help developing countries.

The changing nature of world trade may also make it easier to open markets by cutting import duties, as global supply chains mean tariffs amount to a tax on your own business. “If you protect imports you will damage your exports," Lamy told reporters.