GENEVA (AFP) – World Trade Organisation nations are bracing for a new attempt to break a deadlock in negotiations on a treaty that would tear down barriers to global commerce.
A string of senior officials have issued dire warnings about any failure to bridge differences during several days of round-the-clock meetings here.
WTO chief Pascal Lamy has warned that the organisation’s members cannot afford to duck a deal this time, after missing a host of deadlines during their stumbling Doha Round negotiations.
Postponing a decision would be a “recipe for disaster,” jeopardising efforts to reach a final accord by a cut-off date of December 2006, Lamy warned on Wednesday.
Lamy has thrown down the gauntlet to the European Union, United States and developing-world powerhouses such as Brazil and India, urging them to make concessions in order to break the logjam after almost five years of negotiating.
The three camps have been sparring for years, trading blame for the sluggishness in the Doha Round, which was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 and was originally meant to end in 2004.
The aim of the round is to dismantle trade barriers and harness global commerce to boost development in poor countries, who make up the majority at the 149-nation WTO.
Lamy refers regularly to the “triangle” needed to spur the talks.
Washington should make wider concessions on farm subsidies, Brussels should offer more access for farm imports into the EU, while key emerging nations such as Brazil and India should in turn make deeper cuts to barriers on industrial goods, he says.
The latest talks at the WTO’s Geneva base are officially due to begin on Friday, but trade ministers and other senior officials from around 60 countries were also set to hold a range of parallel meetings starting from Thursday.
Top officials from Australia, Brazil, the EU, India, Japan and the US — the so-called G6, who are key WTO players — were scheduled to gather on Thursday evening.
The Brazilian- and Indian-led G20 group of developing countries, and other blocs within the WTO, were also expected to hone their positions in closed-door sessions.
The overall talks, which are expected to run into Sunday or Monday, centre on the mathematics for cutting subsidies and customs duties.
A deal, according to Lamy, is needed to “unlock other areas of the negotiations,” and enable WTO governments to lay down formally how they would implement a final Doha Round treaty.
There have been conflicting signals about the chances of a breakthrough over the coming days.
Hints from leading negotiators about possible new concessions are tempered by the traditional mantra of WTO members: it is up to others to come up with a better offer if they want something in return.
“We’ve come with an open mind. Anything could happen,” said Gopal Pillai, India’s chief WTO negotiator.
“This whole mist about emerging economies having to move is to cover up the developed countries,” Pillai said.
Rich countries may indeed give some ground, he said.
“But whether that move is sufficient is a moot point,” he cautioned.