WTO agrees to resume part of stalled Doha talks

Original Publication Date: 
15 November, 2006

GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed on Thursday to a limited resumption of stalled free trade talks, but warned that major powers had not yet shown the flexibility needed for a deal.

The WTO's so-called Doha round was suspended in July because of deep differences, particularly over agriculture, but the 149-state body gave the go-ahead for discussions to start again within the various negotiating groups.

"We need to shift into a higher gear, we cannot just sit around with the engines going cold," said one trade official after a meeting of the trade negotiating committee, the steering group for the trade round.

"(But) it will require a significant political decision on the part of key players to really jump-start these talks," the official added.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy called a halt in the 5-year-old round in July, saying the talks were going nowhere and key ministers needed time to reflect on whether they were ready to make the concessions needed for a new free trade pact.

He told the negotiating committee on Thursday that there was a "widespread and genuine" desire to get the talks under way, but it was still too early to consider bringing trade ministers together again.

"While we are ready to start technical work at the level of experts, it would in my view be premature to move on to the ministerial negotiations," Lamy said.

Rather the WTO should "prepare the ground for fully fledged negotiations to take place when the conditions are right."

He has warned that if there is no breakthrough by early next year, the Doha round could become the first global trade negotiation to fail since World War Two.

Launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001, the round has been billed as a "once in a generation" opportunity to boost the global economy and lift millions out of poverty through trade.

But the WTO has long been deeply split over key issues such as agriculture, industrial goods and services and rule changes, all of which have their own negotiating groups. The groups have not met since the suspension in late July.

The United States is under pressure to accept deeper cuts in farm subsidies, but in return the European Union and bigger developing states must accept steeper farm tariff reductions.

Developing countries must also lower barriers to imports of industrial goods.