WTO General Council officially suspends talks indefinitely

Original Publication Date: 
26 July, 2006

Brussels, 27/07/2006 (Agence Europe) - In Geneva, on Thursday, at the request of WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, the ambassadors of the 149 WTO member nations, meeting in General Council, officially agreed to suspend Doha Round talks indefinitely after the stalled meeting on 24 July when the major G-6 trading powers (EU, United States, Brazil, India, Australia and Japan) were unable to reach a compromise on the modalities (figures and other provisions) for trade liberalisation in agricultural products and non-agricultural manufactured articles (NAMA). The members “noted” Pascal Lamy's report recommending that discussions on global trade liberalisation be suspended, without setting a date for resumption of the talks. During the meeting, several speakers deplored the fact that the G-6 had not been able to reach a compromise. The ambassador of New Zealand and Chairman of the Committee on Agricultural Negotiations, Crawford Falconer, called on members not to withdraw their agricultural offers from the negotiation table. Furthermore, except for Australia, all the other G-6 members accused the United States of being responsible for the collapse of the talks by refusing to accept greater restraints on domestic subsidies and refusing to lower its demands regarding market access. Pascal Lamy challenges idea of withdrawing development package from overall talks

Although admitting that this hypothesis could not be ruled out in time, Pascal Lamy, who was speaking on RFI no Thursday, repeated that it was premature to speak of a collapse of the Doha Round and that it was more reasonable to speak of a “pause” or “time out”. The WTO Director General acknowledged that discussions have stumbled over a “small part of this enormous negotiation”, namely the reduction of agricultural subsidies (domestic support) and agricultural customs duties (market access) which, although they do not constitute the main part of the negotiations, oppose the United States on one side and Europe on the other. When asked about the risk of mushrooming regional and bilateral agreements, Mr Lamy admitted that this risk has already come about in part. He went on to say, however, that there is less risk if these bilateral agreements are a complement to progress made at multilateral level.

Pascal Lamy is also far from sharing the view of Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who called last Tuesday for the development package to be removed from the talks and for provisions in favour of developing countries, especially the poorest developing countries, to be implemented . The Financial Times headline reads: “Lamy snubs Mandelson on parts of Doha”, stressing that Mandelson's plans received a “resounding no”. The suggestion that was received the most coolly was that on “pursuing the strand on trade facilitation” (setting rules for getting goods through customs cheaply and rapidly). “Pascal Lamy … also poured cold water on the idea of extracting discrete elements” from talks, The Financial Times states, citing comments by the director general: “Peter Mandelson and others may say why don't we continue with what is painless for me? Unless and until we have an agenda for continuing the negotiations that is painless for everybody, we will not be able to do that”. The FT asserts, moreover, that the United States - which, with Japan, were the most reticent during the Hong Kong meeting last December to offer duty- and quota-free market access to products from the poorest countries - signalled it did not consider itself bound by the Hong Kong commitment to offer this 97% access by 2008 without overall agreement. Finally, the extraction of one or several elements from the talks on the package as a whole would be violation of the principle of “single undertaking”, meaning that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. “I do not believe this situation has changed”, the WTO director general said with irony.

Susan Schwab says progress could depend on French elections

Continuing to slam France as the main obstacle to the round's success, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said, for her part, that the outcome of the French elections in spring 2007 will be important for the future of the talks. “Perhaps we should wait for the result of the French elections”, she told reporters on Wednesday. Saying that customs duties imposed by the EU on imports of agricultural produce are twice as high as those imposed by the United States and that European farm subsidies are three times higher than those Washington grants to its farmers, Ms Schwab spoke ironically on Wednesday of the “tears and wailing of the Europeans” and denied that the United States had been isolated in Geneva. Ms Schwab is to meet the Brazilian foreign minister and leader of the G-20 emergent countries, Celso Amorim, in Rio on Saturday.

European Parliament deplores suspension of talks

Speaking on behalf of the European Parliament, on Wednesday, the Chair of the Committee on International Trade, Spanish Socialist Enrique Baron, regretted the fact that Doha negotiations had been suspended indefinitely. “The EP and its International Trade Committee are not resigned to the prospect of a definitive collapse in the talks”, he said in a press release, calling for the functioning of the talks to be rethought and for new solutions to the WTO system, which has shown its limits. In order to overcome national selfishness and increase the legitimacy of the WTO, it is appropriate to give the multilateral organisation a parliamentary dimension by setting up a dialogue body composed of representatives of the member nation parliaments, Mr Baron said, assuring that the EP will defend a rebalancing of the roles of the EP and Council in coming months in order to better control the work of the Commission.