WTO chief releases draft document for key Hong Kong talks

Original Publication Date: 
26 November, 2005
GENEVA (AFP) - World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy released his draft text on global trade talks for the WTO's keynote ministerial conference in Hong Kong next month, saying it was still open to change.

"I now intend to conduct intensive consultations with delegations in various formats over the next few days to see if we can improve on this first draft," Lamy told an informal meeting with representatives from the WTO's 148 members.

The text is meant to be the director-general's assessment of the state of the talks on a new round of trade liberalization launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.

However EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson reacted sceptically on Saturday, saying he feared the draft "will not advance the trade reform talks as it is".

"There is progress in agriculture, even though we need further commitments from our partners. However, this progress is not matched in industrial goods or services," Mandelson said in a statement.

"This lack of balance is a real problem which needs to be addressed at Hong Kong."

Lamy and top negotiators have already resigned themselves to watered down targets for the meeting in Hong Kong from December 13, amid continuing deadlock on the two key areas, the extent of cuts in agricultural support and import tariffs, and the opening of industrial markets.

The talks have been blighted by cross-cutting disagreements between the European Union, the United States, the G20 group of developing nations including Brazil and India, and other smaller farm trading nations, on the details of a barrier-busting deal and the extent of concessions each side must make.

The draft text merely assembles reports already published by the chairmen of the negotiating groups on farming and Non-Agricultural Market Access (NAMA), adding an overview reaffirming the members "full commitment" to the objectives set out in Doha.

It also reiterates their "resolve" to "conclude the negotiations launched at Doha successfully in 2006".

"We emphasize the central importance of the development dimension in every aspect... and recommit ourselves to making it a meaningful reality," the text reads.

Commonwealth chief Don McKinnon this week warned that developing countries could walk away from the trade talks.

Rich countries needed to be willing to give more than they get from the deadlocked negotiations, McKinnon said ahead of the Commonwealth's 53-state summit.

"This text is not balanced, there has to be improvement in agriculture and NAMA," Brazilian diplomat Clodoaldo Hugueney commented Saturday.

In its current form, the 41-page draft cannot form a basis for negotiations between trade and commerce ministers in Hong Kong and Lamy hopes to shape it up by then, trade sources said.

Lamy intends to travel to Brussels in the coming week for a meeting with the top players in the talks, Mandelson, US Trade Representative Rob Portman, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

A formal meeting of the WTO's Trade Negotiating Committee with all members is also on the agenda for Thursday and Friday.

"There is some margin for manoeuvre," a source close to the WTO said, outlining the possibility of an agreement on the principle of a three-band formula pledging greater cuts in farm subsidies by countries that pay out the most support.

Other loose pledges on industrial products and services were also under consideration for Hong Kong, the source added.