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Doha Round ministers hoping for an Easter miracle in gloomy 08

Monday, January 28th 2008 - 20:00 UTC
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Mrs Doris Leuthard Mrs Doris Leuthard

World Trade Organization members are hoping to agree on the most challenging chapters of the stalled Doha round of trade talks next Easter said the Swiss economy minister in Davos during the closing meetings of the economic forum.

Doris Leuthard invited negotiators from twenty countries for talks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos so that a ministerial meeting can be held in April to agree on trade in farm and industrial products. "We decided we will almost probably have a ministerial meeting in April," she told reporters, adding that it would likely take place in Geneva. But "ministers will meet only when the papers and the technical work can lead to solutions" for both areas, as well as other difficult points such as trade in services, trade law and product protection". "The next two or three months have become crucial to decide whether we close the round this year" said Brazil's Foreign Affairs minister and trade negotiator, Celso Amorim. "I am hopeful we are able to do it, of course it will cost some effort on the part of everyone. But the window of opportunity of last year has become the window of necessity", underlined Amorim. European Union negotiator Peter Mandelson and US Trade Representative Susan Schwab both talked about the possibilities of dropping the talks if an agreement eluded them this year, however. The new round of negotiations to agree on a global trade deal to reduce trade barriers and subsidies was launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. It was meant to be finished by the end of 2004, but the 151 member countries are now targeting a final deal before the end of 2008. However this year crucial presidential elections are being held in the US. Mandelson said any incoming US president would "find it difficult to put trade on top of their to-do list". He said a failure to agree a free trade deal this year would put the text that had been agreed so far "in deep freeze... and it will have turned to mash by 2010" when talks could continue. Asked about whether the talks would be formally abandoned, Schwab said: "My guess is it would just drift away because it would be hard to get revved up again in 2009. It would be hard to resurrect it." Trade ministers had been meeting in the sidelines of the Davos forum including Schwab, Mandelson, Celso Amorim, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath as well as ministers from Australia and Indonesia. WTO Director General Pascal Lamy stressed a final deal was possible this year. Lamy said that he was "not 100% confident" that a deal could be achieved now, but thought it would be "do-able". "We probably can conclude this big negotiation within 2008" Lamy said. "Basically, the politics of it are doing better and the leaders ... they want this". He added that momentum could come from the fact this is the final year of US President George W. Bush's term in office. Bush steps down in January 2009. "The answer from the US side now is clear. Bush wants a deal before leaving. That's absolutely crucial," Lamy added. Amorim argued that a global trade deal could help stabilize financial markets, which have been gripped by volatile trading stemming from the subprime crisis and problems in the banking sector. The other emerging power in the trade negotiations, India, has also expressed support for a deal to provide a bright spot at a time of pessimism about the year ahead. "With the gloomy world economic outlook there could perhaps be one silver lining to this, and that is the conclusion of the trading round" Nath said during the week. "For the last several years we have been coming here and saying that by the time we meet next year we will have closed the round. I hope we don't have to say this next year," he told a news conference. "We are hoping that the signals we get from the major players are a step forward towards the final mile. As we know this is a marathon and the last mile is the toughest mile". The talks are stuck over farm subsidies in Western countries and the refusal of developing nations to open up to services and manufactured goods.

Categories: Economy, International.

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