WTO under pressure for a breakthrough in Doha Round

WTO under pressure for a breakthrough in Doha Round

Geneva: Pressure is building up at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a meeting of ministers in the coming weeks to achieve a breakthrough in the long-running Doha Round, say diplomats.

Several key members called at a WTO council for ministers to come to Geneva to secure an outline deal in the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods before the Christmas break. A new effort to reach an elusive deal depends on whether this weekend’s summit of rich and poor countries (group of Twenty) in Washington gives clear orders to trade ministers to finish the job or offers a routine endorsement of the Round, diplomats said.

WTO director general Pascal Lamy said members had made it clear they wanted to reinforce the insurance policy against protectionism that WTO represented by concluding the Doha Round as soon as possible.

That meant securing an outline deal by the end of the year, he told a news briefing on the council, called to discuss the impact of the global financial crisis on trade finance.

“Lamy probably thinks he’s got his mandate. But he has to make sure it doesn’t go horribly wrong at the summit this weekend," said one senior diplomat from a rich country.

“It’s too soon for him to start counting his chickens—but he might start counting on Monday," he said.

The Doha Round was launched in the Qatari capital seven years ago to open up world trade and help developing countries export their way out of poverty.

Estimates of its impact on the global economy vary from the tens to the hundreds of billions of dollars.

More important, say WTO officials and trade diplomats, would be the boost to business confidence that a deal among 153 countries would engender at a time of global crisis.

Agreement has so far been thwarted by differences between rich and poor nations and between importers and exporters, most recently at a meeting of ministers in July.

That meeting hit a deadlock when the US and India disagreed over measures to protect poor country farmers from a surge in imports.

WTO members from Brazil to Lesotho say a deal was tantalizingly close at that point, and only a little more work is required to agree on the outlines. WTO members calling on Wednesday for a meeting by Christmas included Brazil, the European Union, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, and Mauritius on behalf of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of former European colonies.

The US also called for a meeting by the end of the year “if possible", while China and India did not object, diplomats said.

Doug Palmer in Washington contributed to this story.