A Less Ambitious Hong Kong Conference

Original Publication Date: 
8 November, 2005

Geneva Just how substantial a planned sixth ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Hong Kong December 13 to 18 can be has been called into question because of the inability of trade ministers to reach agreement on full modalities in the Doha Development Agenda agriculture and nonagricultural market access talks (WTD, 11/8/05).

US Trade Representative Rob Portman told journalists yesterday that reaching "full modalities will be difficult" given the paucity of time and the list of issues that need to be resolved.

The USTR, however, said he will conduct yet another small ministerial meeting next week to see if differences can be overcome. But, Indian trade and commerce minister Kamal Nath suggested that the differences were too difficult to sort out in the next week or two, according to one "quad" member source.

Trade ministers plan to adopt a "work program" at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting next month and reassemble within three or four months to sign on to full modalities, Minister Nath told journalists.

At a "green room" meeting in which over a score of trade ministers participated yesterday, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy offered his grim assessment that progress has been insufficient and substantive differences remain among members. He suggested a need to "re-calibrate expectations."

Ambition for the Doha round will be preserved intact while scaling down expectations for Hong Kong, Mr. Lamy told the ministers. Consequently, there would be two ministerial meetings after Hong Kong one to approve modalities and one to finally conclude the Doha round of trade negotiations by the end of the year.