Ministers Meet in Paris to Keep Trade Talks Alive

By and | June 5, 2008

Ministers from major trading nations will try to keep struggling world talks alive today, June 5, with supporters saying a deal could help offset the global food crisis and soften the economic slowdown.

Ministers from the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil, Japan and other World Trade Organization countries will meet in Paris to discuss ways out of the stalemate with just weeks remaining before the WTO’s Doha round risks suffering another long delay.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, one of the strongest advocates of a push to finish off the round, said trade had historically helped drive world economic growth.

“Each round has produced a new impetus,” he told a conference at the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation. “That’s why securing an outcome in Doha is so critical and more so on the current climate not just because of the economic uncertainty but because of … high food prices.”

A United Nations summit on the global food crisis in Rome on Wednesday thrashed out ways of tackling the surge in global prices which has aggravated the problems of nearly one billion people facing hunger.

“If we’re ever to achieve the breakthrough in agriculture and the reduction in subsidies it’s got to be at the time in which producers are getting the best returns. And if we can’t get that outcome now we will never get it,” Crean said.

GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY
New Zealand, once one of the most subsidized countries, has found that eliminating subsidies was good for the economy and good for the environment, Trade Minister Phil Goff said.

“Poor countries rightly blame subsidies and trade barriers for denying them the opportunity to earn their living in the global market place,” he told the conference.

The WTO’s negotiations for an agreement to lower barriers to commerce worldwide, now in their seventh year, suffered the latest in a series of setbacks on Monday.

A WTO mediator gave up trying to bridge big differences between rich and poor countries on how to free up trade in industrial goods, one of the pillars of the round.

The European Commission said on Tuesday the Doha talks risked suspension unless the ministers meeting in Paris sent a clear signal that they would engage more seriously.

The WTO launched the Doha negotiations in 2001 to lower barriers to trade around the world but they risk further years of delay without a breakthrough on the stumbling block issues of agriculture and industrial goods before the summer break.

After the holidays, the United States will be deep into its presidential election campaigns and the chances of resuming talks in 2009 are slim due to the White House handover, the replacement of the European Commission and elections in India.

Differences standing in the way of a deal were highlighted on Wednesday when France reiterated its concerns that Europe was being stampeded into what could be a bad deal.

“Our point is that we must have a good deal for everyone, not just a deal by such-and-such a date,” said French Foreign Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Idrac. “We prefer looking for substance rather than the calendar.”

France, the champion of Europe’s farmers, says the EU is making too many concessions in agriculture for little in return from developing countries such as Brazil, India and China on industrial goods or services, areas where European business is looking to carve open new markets.

(Editing by Peter Millership)

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