The European Union presented world trade negotiators with a last-minute plan to rescue stalled free trade talks on Friday, saying there were still avenues of negotiation to explore after 10 years of trying.
In a presentation to a key meeting of World Trade Organization (WTO) member countries, the plan aims to find some middle ground between the United States and major emerging economies, especially China, on the key sticking point of the discussions — tariffs on industrial goods.
“Our view has always been that not all options and avenues, in this market access area had been explored,” said Jean-Luc Demarty, European Commission Director General for Trade of the Doha round of trade talks that began in 2001.
“This is why we felt we should formulate ideas to stimulate further engagement,” he said in a statement released as the Geneva meeting of the 153-member WTO’s Trade Negotiations Committee began.
“We have sought over the last few days and hours to engage with a large number of members… and would like to report briefly on this today in a proper multilateral setting, so as to ensure full transparency towards all members,” he said. “To summarize the objective of our initiative: We tried to demonstrate that it is technically and realistically possible to bridge the gaps if the political will is there.”
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy, who has staked his reputation on getting a deal done this year, begged delegates in the closed-door meeting not to return to the “law of the jungle”.
The EU’s plan, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Thursday, focuses on tariffs for chemicals, machinery and electronics and seeks an approach that is tailored for different products.
The United States said it would be studying the EU proposal over coming days.
“The key question to us is whether the EU proposal can catalyze new give and take between the members because that’s what’s lacking right now,” Michael Punke, U.S. Ambassador to the WTO told reporters outside the meeting. “That’s a question all of the key members can answer pretty quickly. We can’t know the outcomes might be but we can certainly know very quickly whether or not it can catalyze negotiations” he said.
The Doha talks are the disarmament negotiations of the commercial world — aiming to keep at bay the self-defeating spiral of tariffs, subsidies and quotas that can choke trade and, economists argue, global prosperity.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, speaking in Washington, said this week that countries should give another push to finish the negotiations despite wide differences that have raised fears that the round is dead.
Lamy told delegates on Friday that from here on he would consult in various configurations, including at the ministerial level, in APEC and at an OECD meeting on May 26.
Lamy told delegates his “door is open” for delegations and that negotiators should continue their work.
(Editing by Matthew Jones)
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