WTO members acknowldge failure in latest WTO talks

Original Publication Date: 
9 November, 2005
GENEVA (AFP) - Top WTO negotiators said they had failed to bridge key differences on a global trade accord in talks this week and acknowledged that the scope of a crucial ministerial meeting in Hong Kong next month would have to be scaled back.

"The last few days have been helpful," US Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters in Washington in a conference call.

"But I am sorry to report that we have not been able to make the progress that we had hoped to make in order to put together a program for the Hong Kong meeting that would enable us to set forth a framework.

"We've been able to bridge some differences but we have not been able to come up with the formulas or modalities to be able to negotiate into 2006."

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who joined Portman at the meetings, said: "It does appear to me that we will not make as much progress in Hong Kong as we had hoped for."

Speaking here, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson reported that talks in London on Monday and in Geneva Tuesday and Wednesday had succeeded "not in narrowing differences but in defining them."

"The gap is significant," he said, adding: "My fear is that in lowering expectations for Hong Kong, we will cause the overall ambition for the round to fail."

Ministers from the 148-member World Trade Organization had hoped to approve a framework accord to reduce global trade barriers, as called for in the Doha round of negotiations, at a meeting in Hong Kong December 13-18.

India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said the Hong King gathering would now have to be "recalibrated," leaving even more do to by the end of 2006, the deadline for completing the Doha round.

"We have to make sure that whatever, even recalibrated, comes up in Hong Kong, meets the stated objective," he cautioned.

Nath and other officials predicted that another ministerial conference would likely be called by March to make up lost ground.

The Doha round, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001, has foundered on deep disagreements on the pace and scope of measures to cut trade-distorting agricultural subsidies in rich countries and to lower import tariffs on farm produce and industrial goods.

Powerful developing countries such as Brazil and India argue that subsidies and tariffs in rich nations -- the United States and the European Union in particular -- depress global farm prices and prevent growers in poor nations from competing effectively on world markets.

Developing countries have dismissed trade-opening offers from the EU and the United States as insufficient.

The EU has come in for the sharpest criticism, which has been rejected by Mandelson.

"As far as the European Union is concerned, I feel that we have done everything we could reasonably be expected to do in agriculture to build bridges," he said.

"These moves, quite simply, have not been reciprocated by our partners."

Brazil and India, who steer the powerful G20 developing country lobby, have resisted stepping up negotiations on trade in industrial products and services, such as banking, until the farm controversy is settled.

"I think if there is political will we can move very quickly to a possible deal," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

"It's quite possible to do it in a matter of one or two months. But if the offer of the EU is not improved upon, then it's not two months, three months, one year or two years -- we just can't move."

Amorim said Brazil had made "signals on things which were within the realm of the possibilities provided we have some real progress in agriculture."

"That just fell into deaf ears," he insisted.

But Mandelson accused the G20 heavyweights of "playing politics," noting that a wider range of developing countries would gain from freer industrial trade because they apply high tariffs among themselves.

He also maintained that Brazil and India's negotiating position did not include the interests of others, notably those in the African, Caribbean and Pacific group, who have preferential trade accords with the EU and fear losing them under far-reaching liberalisation.