Lamy senses will to revive WTO talks

Original Publication Date: 
4 September, 2006

BEIJING (Reuters) - WTO chief Pascal Lamy says the political will may exist to revive stalled global trade talks, but negotiations can resume only if countries compromise on the main stumbling block of agriculture, according to remarks published on Wednesday.

Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization, told the China Daily that he was testing the political waters in the hope of resurrecting the market-opening talks, known as the Doha round, which were suspended in July.

"My sense is that the will is there. They all would have a big problem with the failure of the round," Lamy told the English-language newspaper during a four-day visit to China.

"It is clearer than it used to be. You are on the verge of a big hole and you don't want to fall into that big hole," he said.

Lamy suspended the talks, which were launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, after trade ministers failed to break a long-standing impasse over farm subsidies and tariffs.

The round has been billed as a once-in-a-generation chance to inject up to $300 billion a year into the world economy and lift millions of people out of poverty.

Lamy said it was not clear whether the talks might resume in 2007. Displaying political will would not be enough. Countries would also have to shift their positions on agriculture.

"It can only succeed if the negotiation resumes there and new positions appear around the table. This probably needs effort from various players," he said.

Lamy said he would be further canvassing views in Singapore next week at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

He said it was crucial to make progress between mid-November, after mid-term U.S. elections, and early 2007 so the U.S. Congress would have an incentive to extend special presidential trade negotiating powers that expire in the middle of next year.

"My own role is to test the political will and then to make sure position is adjusted," he said. "It may not happen on the first day," he said. "This sort of thing probably needs a bit of pre- cooking, quiet diplomacy."