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WTO Deal Out of Reach As Negotiators Brace For Renewed Talks
Published on Saturday, July 1, 2006 by Agence France Presse
WTO Deal Out of Reach As Negotiators Brace For Renewed Talks
by Jonathan Fowler

A unknown Oxfam member dressed like a referee, right, gives a symbolic yellow card to giant puppets of (clockwise from right) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Jacques Chirac, US President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during a protest action against global trade conditions in front of WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)

The World Trade Organisation has been proclaimed to be in crisis after major trading states failed to clear the logjam hampering efforts to tear down the barriers facing global commerce.

Negotiators limbered up for further talks on Saturday but Indian trade minister Kamal Nath was already packing his bags after the influential G6 nations failed to make progress towards a global trade deal during talks here late Friday.

"There will be no more G6 meeting. We must recognize that we have not been able to move, that there remain major gaps and that there is crisis," Nath told reporters after the meeting, adding that he would leave Geneva on Saturday and return to New Delhi.

The G6 grouping of WTO heavyweights -- Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States -- met with WTO chief Pascal Lamy, with developing and rich countries accusing each other of trying to hijack the elusive Doha Round of multilateral trade talks amid differences on how to curb trade barriers.

In an effort to break the deadlock, Lamy held a string of closed-door meetings late Friday with a range of top officials from the 149-nation organisation's membership, after negotiators asked him to help narrow their differences.

"The green room will decide what the process will be" after the failure of Friday's talks, said Nath, referring to an informal gathering on Saturday of 30 representatives of delegations from the 149 WTO members.

"Anyway, I am flying back tomorrow," he added.

A compromise among the G6 members is seen as crucial, because their diverse trading interests are at the heart of disputes in the broader WTO negotiations.

Earlier Friday, the EU had inched closer to meeting the demands of Brazil and India.

But despite signs that Brussels was prepared to give ground on its customs duties on farm goods, negotiations still hung in the balance as the United States stuck to its position on the thorny issue of agricultural subsidies.

Lamy had earlier issued a stern warning to WTO governments, saying they could no longer afford to duck a deal after missing a host of deadlines during almost five years of stumbling talks which have been marked by regular bust ups.

"If things don't turn around radically in the next hours, we will quite frankly be facing a crisis," he said.

The goal of the Doha Round of trade talks, which was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, is to tear down trade barriers and help developing economies accelerate economic growth.

Negotiations were originally meant to finish in 2004, but the end-date was later pushed back to December 2006.

The immediate task in talks loosely scheduled to run here until Sunday is to strike a deal on the mathematics for cutting subsidies and tariffs, a crucial step towards a wide-ranging trade treaty.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim gave a gloomy assessment on Friday of the chances of reaching that particular goal: "There is no reason to believe that we will make a breakthrough here."

"No one is actually thinking about a Plan B," he complained.

In what he billed as a move to break the deadlock, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson had said Friday that Brussels may go beyond the 46-percent cut in agricultural tariffs it has already put on the table.

He said that the EU could move closer to the 54-percent cut proposed by the G20, a powerful grouping of developing countries led by Brazil and India.

EU negotiators have persistently said that other WTO players must match any new European move.

The EU, Brazil and India are pressing the United States to offer deeper cuts in subsidies for its farmers.

"This movement will be necessary," Amorim said.

Last October, Washington offered what it billed as "bold" and "ambitious" cuts. But critics said they lacked the bite to stop US agri-business from skewing world farm trade against its competitors.

"We never said it was a final offer. We said it was conditional on others moving," US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said.

However, there were no signs -- in public, at least -- that US negotiators would be prepared to give ground at the Geneva meeting.

The EU and US are demanding deeper cuts in customs duties on manufactured goods levied by emerging countries such as Brazil and India, but the latter counter that the rich must give way.

"We're caught in a position of everyone waiting for someone else to move first," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said.

© 2006 Agence France Presse


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