WTO negotiations to resume for new free-trade pact
WTO ministers agreed yesterday to resume high-level negotiations to clinch a new global free-trade pact, but despite the talk of a breakthrough there were words of caution about the hard work ahead.
Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma told reporters that ministers from more than 35 countries meeting here for two days of talks had committed to high-level contacts resuming at a meeting on September 14 in Geneva.
"There has been a breakthrough in negotiations. The impasse in resuming negotiations has been broken," he told reporters.
“The chief negotiators and senior officials will meet on September 14 in Geneva to restart the entire process," he said, adding that there was "a unanimous affirmation" of the need to clinch a deal after years of delay.
But the US trade chief backed away from the deadline for a pact of 2010 set in July by a meeting of top industrial and emerging nations, including India and China, for the repeatedly stalled Doha Round to conclude.
"We have missed so many deadlines," US Trade Representative Ron Kirk told a separate news conference, at which he reaffirmed Washington's commitment to the Doha Round.
"Substance will drive this process, not setting deadlines and timelines," he said.
Since an aborted attempt to organise a small ministerial meeting in December last year, the Doha Round of negotiations that began in 2001 has been restricted to low-level contacts in Geneva.
Elections in the key countries of the United States, India and most recently Japan made negotiations difficult to resume earlier, WTO observers say.
Earlier Sharma stressed that it was too early to talk about an "end-game" for a pact, given differences on the key issues of farm subsidies in rich countries and industrial product tariffs in developing nations.
"We have a long way to travel before we can safely say we are in the end-game," he said.
The Doha round of WTO negotiations began in 2001 with the aim of creating a new free-trade pact that would boost global commerce to help developing countries.
Deadlock between the major trading blocs has dashed repeated attempts to forge a new pact.
The last push in July last year in Geneva, ended in failure but with new governments installed in Washington and India there was renewed hope for another drive for success sometime next year.
India's disagreement with the United States over subsidy protection for poor farmers was widely blamed for the collapse of talks in Geneva.
But the world economic slump has given new impetus to reach a deal that would fuel commerce and could bolster global gross domestic product by up to 700 billion dollars a year, according to new think-tank report.
"This crisis actually gives all members a stronger sense of urgency to conclude the Doha Round negotiations," China's Commerce Minister Chen Deming said Thursday, calling a trade deal the best bulwark against protectionism.
The two days of informal talks were seen as preparation for further progress at a meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 wealthy and emerging nations in Pittsburgh later this month.
India took the initiative in setting up the meeting, seeking to inject momentum into the negotiations by getting ministers to gather in New Delhi to set a roadmap for meeting the deadline.