Members of the World Trade Organization are showing new energy and determination to reach a global trade deal but must now abandon fixed positions to clinch the agreement, the head of the WTO said on Tuesday.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said it was no longer enough to have “answering machines” around the table as the WTO’s 153 members respond to a call by leaders of the G20 and APEC to finish the Doha round trade talks next year.
“We are at the point where we must have negotiators, and all negotiators have to be prepared to move out of their comfort zones towards agreement,” Lamy told the WTO’s General Council.
He was speaking as trading powers ready for ready for a bout of intensive negotiations starting Jan. 10, after the G20 and APEC leaders said 2011 offered a narrow window of opportunity to conclude the long-running Doha talks.
The Doha round was launched nine years ago to boost the world economy by freeing up global commerce and help poor countries prosper through more trade. It has already missed a whole series of deadlines.
Economists differ about the size of the boost to the world economy from a deal, but say it would help business sentiment by keeping markets open and resisting protectionism.
The United States wants big emerging countries such as China, Brazil and India to open up more to American businesses, while developing countries say the United States, Europe and other rich countries are not doing enough to open up their markets to farm goods and end trade-distorting agricultural subsidies.
A series of meetings of small groups of ambassadors in recent months to brainstorm on ways to break the deadlock has raised hopes that a deal could be done if members are flexible. The U.S. ambassador to the WTO, Michael Punke, told Reuters last week he was encouraged by China’s approach in those discussions and was waiting to see whether that would translate into real negotiations.
Lamy said he would call a meeting of the WTO on Feb. 2 to review progress on January’s intensified talks, preceded by a meeting on Jan. 26 of key members — the biggest trading powers, those representing groups of smaller countries, and those chairing areas of negotiation.
Most members agreed that at some point the negotiations need to move from a focus on individual areas such as agriculture and industrial goods to a sense of what the overall package offers, allowing countries to make cross-cutting trade-offs, he said.
But that give-and-take could only take place once there was substantive progress in the negotiating groups handling the individual areas, he said.