WTO talks yield ‘very encouraging’ progress

WTO talks yield ‘very encouraging’ progress

Geneva: Talks among seven key members have produced “very encouraging movements" in efforts to produce a global trade agreement, a spokesman for World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Pascal Lamy said.

Talks are now moving to a group of more than 30 trade ministers, Keith Rockwell told journalists in Geneva on Friday. “It has been a productive few hours," he said. “There is a spirit of cooperation and they decided it’s time to bring this to the wider group." Members of the core negotiating group, which together represent 80% of world trade, include the US, Brazil, the EU, India, China, Japan and Australia.

The talks mark the last chance to strike a deal on cutting tariffs and subsidies in agriculture and manufactured goods before the US presidential election in November. Failure to wrap up an accord may delay the Doha Round of talks for years because of changes in the US administration and at the European Commission.

Earlier in the day, Lamy told delegates the talks were at risk of collapse after four days of “painfully slow" progress. He described the situation as “critical, edging between success and failure. The next 24 hours are crucial. Positions must move quite radically. If we do not see this rapid progress toward convergence, the deal will not happen."

The trade round began seven years ago with the aim of helping poor nations benefit from trade liberalization. Negotiators from rich countries want more assurances that emerging economies will open their markets to more foreign goods while developing nations are pressing wealthy governments such as the US and the EU to cut agricultural tariffs and aid to their farmers.

Friday’s talks among the seven core members are “crucial," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said as he arrived for the fifth day of negotiations. He declined to comment after the five-hour meeting wrapped up.

Lamy’s decision to call the summit was a gamble aimed at pressing key governments in the WTO to bridge divisions in a short period. He told negotiators last month that without an accord on agriculture and industrial goods by the end of July, the chances for a successful conclusion to the trade round are less than 50%.