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Doubts over WTO draft at trade talks

Observers are pessimistic about an agreement being reached before the April deadline, given the mutually intransigent positions of the key players.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2006 12:09 IST

Two days of intense negotiations, including by India, at trade talks in London ahead of the April 30 deadline on WTO draft accords in agriculture and industrial goods saw a repeat of a by-now-familiar story of key players refusing to budge on their stated positions.

Observers are pessimistic about an agreement being reached before the April deadline, given the mutually intransigent positions of the key players.

After the talks, India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath remarked that negotiators "need more comprehension" of the prevailing realities. The other parties at the talks were the European Union, the United States, Australia, Brazil and Japan.

India and Brazil have been working in tandem at trade talks. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim reflected Kamal Nath's stance by saying that the talks on liberalising markets "lack urgency".

The comments by Indian and Brazilian negotiators were less enthusiastic than those by representatives of the US and EU. The inability to achieve a breakthrough and the divergent remarks after the talks were indicative of the gulf in the contending perceptions on key issues that have plagued the Doha round of talks.

According to observers, if the draft agreements were not reached by the deadline, the WTO members countries will be unable to finalise an agreement before US President George W Bush loses "fast-track" powers to approve trade deals in mid-2007 without going back to an increasingly protectionist Congress.

At the two-day meeting, for the first time a numerical simulation, provided by the US and Canada, was presented indicating the effect tariff cuts would have on imports and exports in 10 main WTO members.

This numerical simulation was cited by western negotiators as the highlight of the meeting.

The six negotiators were supposed to have agreed that the fact that simulations existed of what different tariff levels and subsidies would mean for different countries' economies had made the meeting productive, as it was no longer a matter of individual countries defending numbers they had produced themselves.

The objective of the Doha round of trade talks, launched in 2001 in the Qatar capital, was to initiate steps to boost global economy by lowering trade barriers across all sectors with particular emphasis on developing countries.

The talks have since been bogged down due to differences between the developed and developing countries, with the latter demanding that rich nations do more to open up their farm market.