Peter Mandelson, the European Union’s Trade Commissioner, has expressed his concern about the slow progress being made towards the liberalization of trade barriers. The “Doha Round” (named after the Capital of Qatar, where the talks began) to further lower global trade barriers has been in process for four years.
Speaking in Geneva, following a visit to the headquarters of the World Trade Organization, Mandelson noted that the self-imposed preliminary deadline to put together a framework of new accords is due to be presented to the 148 WTO members next month, but that little progress had been made on drafting proposals.
The accord is especially important for the world’s insurers, as a large part of the new framework aimed at further lowering global trade barriers involves the financial services sector that includes insurance. The current schedule, which has been extended several times, calls for a ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December, which would adopt the proposed reforms, but so far little in the way of substance has been produced.
Essentially the talks have been stalled since the failure of the Cancun summit meeting in 2003, when differences between the developed and the developing and poorer nations prevented any agreement.
Current WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi has been trying to restart the talks, and some progress seemed to have been made when the July deadline was agreed to last year, but so far negotiators haven’t put much on the table. The main stumbling block remains agricultural trade. The poorer countries have accused (rightly) the Western countries, mainly Europe, the U.S. and Japan, of maintaining a network of price supports and subsidies for their own farmers, while erecting trade barriers to stifle agricultural imports from poorer nations. While this issue remains unsolved, little progress has been made on liberalizing services such as banking and insurance.
Some countries have submitted proposals on the agricultural questions, but most have held off doing so in the services sector for fear that making concessions in that area might not be reciprocated by concessions on agricultural products. Mandelson said more discussion, negotiation and “deal making” was urgently needed if the talks were to succeed.
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