Free-trade negotiations in Geneva falter

Many farmers are against any WTO deal Keystone

Switzerland's chief trade negotiator says World Trade Organization (WTO) members will not be able to agree a deal on farm and industrial goods by the end of April.

This content was published on April 26, 2006

But Luzius Wasescha told swissinfo that despite the missed deadline, the Doha round of trade liberalisation talks could still be completed on schedule by the end of the year.

Wasescha's comments came as the WTO called off a meeting of trade ministers planned for the beginning of May.

"We have to be realistic: the ingredients for ministers to meet and negotiate are not ready yet. So we will carry on with our work," Wasescha said.

Speaking on Monday after a meeting of heads of trade missions, WTO director-general Pascal Lamy said the failure to reach agreement on reducing agricultural and industrial tariffs and subsidies was "bad news", but added that this did not mean the end of the Doha round.

"We have missed a deadline, but we are not deadlocked. Negotiations have made some progress recently," he said.

Lamy declined to say when he thought trade ministers from the 149 WTO member countries might now meet.

Doha aims

The WTO launched the talks in 2001 in the Qatari capital, Doha. The aim was to slash subsidies, tariffs and other barriers to global commerce while using trade to help poor nations.

In recent months the process has become bogged down, with developing countries demanding that rich nations make more effort to open up their farm markets.

For their part, the United States and European Union want major developing countries like Brazil and India to liberalise their industrial and services sectors. The EU and US also accuse each other of failing to make enough concessions.

Switzerland is under pressure from other WTO members to substantially reduce its farm subsidies and cut import tariffs on agricultural products.

Wasescha said Doha wasn't dead, but restated the Swiss position that progress had to be made in three areas in order to achieve a global trade deal.

"We are talking about market access to industrial goods, market access to agriculture and domestic support for agriculture. The three camps have to move together."

Pushing towards conclusion

The trade negotiator said that as one of the countries that stood to benefit most from the accord, Brazil should try harder to understand the positions of the EU and US. He said it was unrealistic to imagine that the EU could move much further on market access to agriculture.

"The EU has done nothing but move since the very beginning of the negotiations. The US has moved a bit in the area of domestic support, but that's not in proportion with what it requested – market access."

Wasescha said the announcement of the departure of US trade negotiator Robert Portman, who is to become US budget chief, "might create the impression that the US have lowered their expectations with regard to the Doha round".

"It is up to the US delegation to demonstrate that even though there is a change, occurring at a time which is not the very best for the Doha round, this has no impact on the capacity of the US to push towards conclusion of the negotiations."

He said he still believed the Doha round could be wrapped up by the end of 2006.
"I was born an optimist and I will die an optimist," he told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Morven McLean

In brief

The so-called Doha Round of trade liberalisation talks, launched in 2001, should have been completed two years ago. It is hoped that it will be concluded by the end of the year.

The more developed economies are baulking at making bigger, politically sensitive cuts to farm subsidies and lowering tariffs on food imports.

Developing countries are reluctant to open their markets to goods and services unless agricultural tariffs and subsidies are cut.

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In compliance with the JTI standards

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