Indonesia plays down chance of Doha G33 breakthrough

Original Publication Date: 
20 March, 2007

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia does not expect a breakthrough on global free trade talks at a meeting of G33 countries on Wednesday, but developing nations aimed to "really push" to make progress, the country's trade minister said.

Indonesia chairs the G33 group of developing countries and is hosting a meeting to discuss positions for the World Trade Organization's long-troubled Doha round of negotiations.

The five-year-old Doha round was relaunched in January after a six-month suspension triggered by differences among major trading partners, especially the United States and the European Union, over agricultural subsidies.

Asked about the chances of a breakthrough on Wednesday, Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting at a five-star Jakarta hotel: "Not yet."

"But we hope to send a message from the meeting that we from G33 and all the other representatives from developing countries we feel that time is short so we have to really push."

There is concern global trade talks will fail if they are not wrapped up by June, when the U.S. administration's fast-track negotiating authority, which allows it to make trade deals which Congress must approve or reject without making changes, expires.

About 50 protesters representing Indonesian farmers held a protest outside the hotel, putting up a banner saying: "WTO out of agriculture!"

Earlier on Wednesday, when asked about his confidence in the Doha round making progress, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath, said: "It's not my confidence. The question is whether the developed countries are willing to make things move forward to move toward an artificial deadline which arises out of their own political, their own domestic situation."

EU SAYS CLOCK TICKING ON DEAL

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who is in Jakarta as well, has also warned time is running out.

"I will be reviewing with them (the G33) the progress made by the G4 since the beginning of the year and sharing my assessment that whilst we have made progress, we are now running into very serious time limitations as the clock ticks to the expiry of the U.S. negotiators' Trade Promotion Authority at the end of June," Mandelson was quoted by a spokesman as saying on Tuesday.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that it was key to reach a deal by June not just because of political timetables but because there were "already a lot of things that are concrete gains for developing countries that should not be thrown away."

He also told reporters poorer countries needed to show leadership too.

"I think it is important developing countries are also offensive and not only present their so-to-say defensive concerns and I think in this regard the dialogue was very useful."

The minister also warned in a statement read at the meeting that plans to expand the use of greener biofuels globally could be scuppered if poorer nations faced high tariff barriers.

The so-called G4 -- the EU, the United States, Brazil and India -- have intensified their efforts in recent weeks to strike a deal on agriculture, the main sticking point so far in the negotiations, as well as on industrial goods and services.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's spokesman said the Indonesian leader took a phone call from President Bush on Monday ahead of the meeting expressing hope progress would be made.

The WTO launched its Doha round of negotiations in 2001 to cut barriers to trade around the world as a way to lift millions of people out of poverty and boost the global economy.

But it risks further long delays or even collapse if an agreement cannot be reached soon, top trade officials say.