DAVOS, Switzerland, (AP) -A meeting of the world’s top commercial powers yielded only a vague pledge of commitment to global trade liberalization efforts on Saturday — a disappointment after business and political leaders called for progress in the World Trade Organization talks.
Representatives of the United States, the European Union, India, Brazil and almost two dozen other countries “expressed a strong wish for a quick resumption of full-scale activity,” said a statement from the Swiss Economics Ministry, which organized the gathering on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
The meeting in the Swiss Alps was the first joint attempt by trade and foreign ministers at reviving the talks since efforts to clear barriers to trade in farm goods and manufactured products acrimoniously collapsed last summer.
The U.S. and the EU publicly blamed each other for the failure and both clashed with leading developing countries India and Brazil over slashing subsidies and cutting tariffs, particularly in the agricultural sector.
“There will need to be a new U.S. offer on farm subsidies. There will need to be a new EU offer on tariffs. There will need to be a new offer from India and Brazil on manufactured goods,” said Pascal Lamy, the WTO director-general.
Lamy could not predict when negotiators might be again be ready to take up the hard numbers of a new trade deal.
“To get there, each key player will need to show new commitment and real flexibility,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said at the meeting.
Mandelson reiterated that the EU was willing to improve its offer on cutting farm tariffs, but only if reciprocal moves were made by others in return.
The return to talks came amid increased support from global business leaders and top politicians. In addition to the forum’s themes of climate change and Middle East peace efforts, the WTO negotiations were the subject of repeated discussions in Davos.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sounded confident about progress on Friday, a day after 65 of the most powerful business executives warned that failure to reach a new trade deal would undermine the world’s economic growth and risk the dangers of protectionism.
“If it succeeds, great. If it fails, it will be catastrophic,” Blair said of the so-called Doha Round of trade talks.
But while pledges of commitment have never lacked, getting countries to open up their markets to foreign competition has been much more difficult since the round’s inception in Qatar’s capital five years ago.
Summits in Cancun, Mexico, in 2003 and in Hong Kong just over a year ago both failed to outline concrete steps for liberalizing the global economy and were more noteworthy for the public bickering among ministers and the angry street protests they sparked.
The frustration culminated in July when Lamy called for a halt to talks after the organization’s most powerful members refused to budge from entrenched positions on farm support and manufacturing tariffs.
Although talks were never formally or legally suspended, Lamy has said that he will only “officially restart” the round when countries signal their readiness to make concessions.
The positive note he has sounded in recent weeks had raised speculation that he might make the announcement Saturday, but even that would have been little more than symbolic and meant primarily to kickstart a final push for a deal.
Negotiators are trying to forge the blueprint of an accord before July, when President Bush’s authority to make trade deals that can be sent to Congress for a simple yes-or-no vote expires.
Without the so-called “fast track” authority, it would be much harder for any treaty to gain congressional approval in the U.S., the world’s largest trading nation.