No progress in Geneva WTO talks

Marathon WTO trade talks dragged on in Geneva with little progress made in efforts to crack the deadlock in the long-running Doha round. France 24's business correspondent Owen Fairclough explains why.


Marathon trade talks limped into another day on Friday but with little progress so far on the tortuous negotiations ministers said it would soon be time to decide whether a deal was at all possible.

The make-or-break talks, called this week to crack the deadlock in the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) long-running Doha round, have failed to move far in the intractable issues ranging from farm subsidies to car import duties.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said after Thursday's meeting ended that the talks had not broken up so far, and there was interest in continuing, but time was running out.

"Tomorrow is the day in which we must know whether it's possible or not. Maybe we don't finish everything but you must have an idea whether it's possible or not," he told reporters.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said that despite some progress the talks had not moved as much as Washington hoped when it offered on Tuesday to slash its farm subsidies.

"Let's put it this way: some countries are stretching more than others and we'll see tomorrow whether everybody is prepared to do their share," she told reporters.


The United States and European Union want developing countries to open up their markets for industrial goods and services, and accuse them of trying to avoid real liberalisation that would create new business opportunities.

But big developing countries like Brazil and India say the rich nations are not doing enough to break down the tariff walls and subsidies that distort farm trade.

They point to the Doha round's development agenda to argue that poor countries should be able to shield subsistence farmers and infant industries from the full force of liberalisation.

Industry associations from Argentina, India and South Africa issued a joint statement warning that the current proposals in the talks risked damaging key sectors in their countries that were major providers of employment.

And a row about bananas that threatens to derail the entire negotiation continued to fester on Thursday despite talks among different groups of developing country producers.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy called ministers from about 35 countries to Geneva this week to seek a breakthrough in the Doha round, launched in late 2001 to boost the world economy, warning the negotiation could otherwise be delayed for years. He says a successful deal would inject confidence into a global economy beset by soaring fuel and food prices and the credit crunch, while failure would encourage protectionist sentiment and call into question the international community's ability to tackle problems like climate change.

This week's talks focus on the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods, but are also due to review the prospects for liberalisation in services like banking and telecoms.

The talks were originally due to run until Saturday but delegates say they are likely to either flop before then because of the deep differences or drag on into next week.

The Global Services Coalition, an international lobbying group, said that in nearly seven years ministers had not yet had a substantive joint discussion on services, which represent 50-80 percent of the economies of the WTO's 153 members.

"If the current talks in Geneva collapse without addressing services, it will be a deplorable failure to promote the best opportunities for global growth and employment," it said.

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