The goal of signing a new global commerce deal in 2010 is out of reach unless countries accelerate their negotiations, the World Trade Organization’s Director-General Pascal Lamy said on Friday.
The WTO’s 153 members must turn vague discussions on the Doha round into real negotiations with concrete proposals laid down on paper, he told a meeting of the full membership.
“We have not yet seen tangible progress in the negotiations and, overall, I would say that the current speed with which we are advancing is too slow … to be in a position to wrap this round next year,” Lamy said.
Despite an intensive work program agreed last month, talks have not achieved enough to reach a core deal in the Doha negotiations, now in their eighth year, by early 2010, he said. That skeleton accord would be necessary to reach an overall detailed deal next year, as called for by political leaders.
Broad agreement has been reached in many areas of the talks, launched in late 2001 to create new market opportunities and help developing countries prosper through trade.
But they are stalled over differences between exporters and importers, and rich and poor countries on how much to cut farm subsidies and industrial and agricultural tariffs, as well as opening up markets for services such as banking and telecoms [IJ Ed. Note … ‘and insurance’].
WTO members from Brazil to China expressed concern that the talks were even losing ground, in line with gloom after a meeting on Thursday of key delegations.
FORMAT NOT IMPORTANT
Friday’s meeting had been called to take stock of progress after a week of talks attended by senior officials from capitals and to discuss the next moves.
Many members objected to the format of the talks, where negotiations on the full range of trade issues — reinforced once a month by senior officials from national capitals — are complemented by bilateral contacts and meetings in small groups.
Argentina, Switzerland and others complained in particular about a series of meetings of a dozen countries hosted by the European Union that touched on key issues of interest to them.
Turkey’s WTO ambassador, Bozkurt Aran, told Friday’s session that it was the least promising meeting since he arrived in Geneva just over a year ago, according to one participant.
But Lamy said the format was not important if members were unwilling to move on questions of substance. “The key now is not process, but rather what happens in the negotiations. Specifically, we now need to engage in text-based negotiations to bridge gaps,” he said. “That is the only way these negotiations can bear fruit.”
Lamy called on delegates to ensure that the next week of meetings with senior officials, starting Nov. 23, led to real negotiations and not just discussions. Only that would lead to progress that the WTO’s Nov. 30-Dec. 2 ministerial conference could review and act on, he said.
He also pointed out that a Doha deal would bolster defenses against protectionism and boost the world economy, all the more important as the WTO expects trade to contract 10 percent this year due to the global downturn.
The Dutch CPB institute reported on Friday that trade in the three months to August was 1.8 percent up on the previous three months. This marks the first three-monthly increase since May last year, helped by rises in imports from emerging Asian countries and higher Japanese imports and exports.
But in the 12 months to August trade was still 13 percent lower than in the same period a year earlier. (For the full CPB report go to: http://link.reuters.com/fab65f)
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