India, Brazil recall poverty agenda as WTO heavyweights search for deal

Original Publication Date: 
7 November, 2005
LONDON (AFP) - India and Brazil warned that the success of struggling global trade talks hinges on rich nations taking account of the poor, as the EU called for more concessions from developing countries.

"The WTO is not merely about free trade but fair trade," India's Minister of Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath told journalists ahead of a crucial meeting in London with counterparts from Brazil, the European Union, Japan and the United States.

Peter Mandelson, the EU's top negotiator, warned that finding a deal soon was a "tall order" and again fended off criticism from France that he had offered too many concessions to trade partners.

Nath and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, whose countries steer the powerful G20 developing country lobby, were in closed session Monday at the Indian embassy with Mandelson, US Trade Representative Rob Portman and Japanese Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai.

They were trying to break a bitter deadlock -- particularly over customs duties and subsidies on farm goods -- which is holding up the WTO's four-year-old Doha Round negotiations.

A key plank of the talks, launched in Qatar in 2001, is to use commerce to boost developing countries.

"The acid test of this round is how we can secure the livelihoods, security and rural development needs of most of humanity," said Nath.

The logjam is jeopardising the chances of all 148 WTO member states approving an outline deal of a trade accord at their December 13-18 conference in Hong Kong.

An agreement between the trading powers gathering in London is seen as crucial because they represent many of the diverging interests in the WTO. They are due to meet with other members at the WTO's Geneva base on Tuesday.

"It is incumbent on all of us, both developed and developing countries, to recognise that the reckoning has come," said Nath.

Developing countries, which accuse rich nations of using subsidies and tariffs to skew the market against them, have been wary of cuts offered by the US and EU, saying they lack real bite.

Rich WTO members are pushing powerful developing countries such as Brazil and India to offer more in talks on trade industrial goods and in services, such as banking.

"We must make urgent and balanced progress across the whole agenda of these talks" to ensure success in Hong Kong, said Mandelson.

Amorim cautioned that "developing countries are ready to make the necessary efforts, provided there are efforts in agriculture" and that "movements will therefore be proportionate to what we can get in agriculture."

Portman said that there was "sense of reality" among WTO members that they must take action "in the next couple of days" to be ready for Hong Kong.

He backed EU calls for more effort across the board, but acknowledged that "it's going to be tough to make progress in these other areas until we can unlock the market access side of agriculture."

Earlier, Mandelson told a meeting of EU foreign ministers that he expected "to be pressed hard for more on agriculture market access."

"This I will not give," he said.

He also accused "very aggressive agricultural exporters," citing the US, Brazil and Australia, of pushing the WTO talks "into an agricultural siding."

Mandelson is also trying to weather a spat within the 25-nation EU.

France, which regards agriculture as a matter of vital national interest, has accused him of overstepping his brief and vowed to oppose any deal he works out that goes too far.

Mandelson said that "the French government doesn't have a veto."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Monday warned that "no-one should have any doubts about France's determination." However, he said France would back a deal that respects the "red lines" in EU farm policy.

Under the agreement that launched the Doha Round, as well as a subsequent interim deal, developing countries are meant to benefit from special treatment -- but Nath said this appears to be going forgotten by rich players.

"We cannot go to Hong Kong with a statement of good intentions. We've had enough statements of good intentions," he added.

"It's not the number of pages but the content of those pages that will determine the success or failure of this round."

The WTO's conferences in Seattle in 1999 and Cancun in 2003 both failed because of persistent discord between rich and poor, particularly over farm trade and services.