India’s trade minister reminded WTO members on Friday of the work needed to clinch a new global free-trade pact next year as ministers from more than 30 countries wrapped up a two-day meeting in New Delhi.
The head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Pascal Lamy and Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean have both talked of entering an “end-game” for negotiations, but India’s Anand Sharma stressed the challenges ahead.
“Now we have some idea how to fast-track these negotiations but a lot of technical work needs to be done,” Sharma told reporters.
“We have a long way to travel before we can safely say we are in the end game.”
The Doha round of WTO negotiations began in 2001 with the aim of creating a new free-trade pact that would boost global commerce to help developing countries.
Deadlock between the major trading blocs, anchored on disputes over farm subsides in rich nations and tariffs on industrial goods in developing ones, has dashed repeated attempts to forge a new pact.
The last push in July last year in Geneva ended in failure but with new governments installed in Washington and India there was renewed hope for another drive for success sometime next year.
India’s disagreement with the United States over subsidy protection for poor farmers was widely blamed for the collapse of talks in Geneva.
In a statement released after the first day of talks here, ministers from the 35 countries attending pledged swift action to conclude the round to boost the ailing world economy.
“This crisis actually gives all members a stronger sense of urgency to conclude the Doha round negotiations,” China’s Commerce Minister Chen Deming said on Thursday, calling a trade deal the best bulwark against protectionism.
The two days of informal talks are also seen as preparation for further progress at a meeting of leaders of the Group of 20 wealthy and emerging nations in Pittsburgh later this month.
Elsewhere, a new study by Washington think-tank the Peterson Institute for International Economics calculated a Doha accord could bolster global gross domestic product by up to 700 billion dollars a year.
But in July, top industrial nations and five emerging economies, including India and China, agreed to put the Doha round back on track and conclude a deal in 2010.
India took the initiative, seeking to inject momentum into the negotiations by getting ministers to gather in New Delhi to set a roadmap for meeting the deadline.
“There was a unanimous affirmation (at the meeting) of the need to expeditiously conclude the Doha round, particularly in the present critical global economic situation,” said the statement issued by India Thursday.
It made no mention of a timeframe, but Lamy said he believed agreement could be achieved next year as long as there was political will.
“The meeting can be the real beginning of the end-game,” said Lamy.
While Lamy said 80 percent of the work on a new deal was finished, Sharma cautioned there were still many unresolved issues, especially on farm subsidies and market access for industrial goods.
Sharma also told developed nations the development mandate was “the bedrock of the Doha round” and could not be compromised.
Celso Amorim, External Relations Minister of Brazil, one of the other big trade players, said developing countries “have no more room for further concessions” to rich nations.
Developing countries such as India, which has 235 million farmers, are hesitant to open their markets to what they fear will be cheap crops from overseas.
As ministers met Thursday, thousands of farmers and social activists blocked a main thoroughfare in New Delhi to demand the government ditch Doha.
“The rich countries with their subsidies will destroy Indian farmers,” Ajmer Singh Gill, a senior leader of Indian farm group Bharat Kisan Union said.
The United States and the European Union are reluctant to abandon large agricultural subsidies that command widespread political popularity.