Trade ministers split over Doha deal

Trade ministers split over Doha deal

Geneva: Ministers at a key World Trade Organization meeting moved on Tuesday to bridge a gap between emerging and developed nations which has long delayed a global trade pact ahead of a 2010 deadline set by world leaders.

The two sides appear unwilling to offer concessions over the level of cuts to agriculture subsidies and industrial product tariffs that had caused an eight year stalemate in the Doha round of global trade liberalization talks.

But some ministers remain optimistic that differences could be narrowed.

“There are domestic and strong expectations and strong political will to conclude the Round, and people will come forward with constructive suggestions," Australian trade minister Simon Crean told reporters.

As the three-day WTO ministerial meeting began on Monday, the United States called on developing countries to make “meaningful market opening" but Brazil said it was “unreasonable" to expect emerging countries to be the only ones making further concessions in order to secure a Doha accord.

World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy, in his opening remarks, warned ministers and senior officials from 153 member states that time was not on their side even though about 80% of the deal had been clinched.

“Time is running out, and it is not credible at this stage to see issues in isolation from the work and the achievements of the past eight years," Lamy said.

World leaders, including those in the key Group of 20 emerging and developed nations, have pledged to conclude the Doha Round by 2010 but progress has been lacklustre.

Since the start of Doha talks in the Qatari capital in 2001, deadlines have been missed several times.

US trade representative Ron Kirk signalled that his country was prepared to enter the final stage of negotiations if developing nations hastened moves to open their rapidly growing markets.

“For our part, the United States negotiating team is ready to move into the endgame," he said.

About 58% of global economic growth between now and 2014 will be provided by China, India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Southeast Asian countries, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“The creation of new trade flows and meaningful market opening, particularly in key emerging markets, is required to fulfil the development promise of Doha," Kirk said.

However, Brazil’s foreign minister Celso Amorim handed the ball back to the United States and other developed countries, saying: “It is unreasonable to expect that concluding the Round would involve additional unilateral concessions from developing countries."

Meanwhile, Indian commerce minister Anand Sharma also stressed the “development" aspect of the Doha Round.

He pointed out that key sticking points such as cotton -- which is being held up by disagreements over US subsidies -- needed to be dealt with “sympathetically."

China, whose rapid growth has helped the world emerge from the worst recession in decades, cautioned that the Doha talks needed to be hauled back from stalemate to help nations prosper from trade.

“Looking back at the 60 years of the multilateral trading system, we see that free trade has always been navigating through choppy waters," said Chinese commerce minister Chen Deming.

He warned that results derived from the Doha talks so far must not be withdrawn.

“What is on the table is hard won and cannot be overturned for any excuse," he said.