WTO Chief: Trade Accord Needed This Month

By Agence France-Presse World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi warned the 147 WTO member states July 19 that failure to re-energize global trade talks by the end of this month could freeze liberalization for years to come. Supachai released a written statement as negotiators gathered at the Geneva-based World Trade Organization for initial discussions on a draft compromise proposal aimed at unlocking stalled trade talks by an end-July deadline. "A failure this month means the continuation of an unsatisfactory status quo, certainly for the remainder of this year and next and possibly for years to come," Supachai said. Supachai indicated that a repeat of the ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico, last September, when rich and poor countries failed to agree on the way ahead for the new round of trade liberalization, could do further harm to the global free trade system. "There is no satisfactory alternative to the multilateral trading system. But should confidence in our system erode further, we should not be surprised if countries pursue other means of rule-making in trade," the WTO chief said. The draft of the interim deal, which must be sealed by a meeting of the WTO's General Council on July 27 and 28, outlined the areas the talks on the new round of trade liberalization launched by ministers in Doha, Qatar, in 2001 should cover. The text released by chief negotiator Shotaro Oshima on Friday notably advocated talks on the elimination of export subsidies in agriculture, a key demand of developing countries that the European Union and U.S. had resisted until recently. Oshima's proposals also covered farm export credits, cuts in tariff barriers, a reduced agenda for non-agricultural talks, and some exemptions for the world's poorest countries. Supachai emphasized that the proposals were open to some change over the coming days and he expected members would challenge some parts of it. But he pointed out that it was drawn up on the basis of months of consultation and represented a "balance of interests." Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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