WTO Chief Urges 'Constructive' Push for Trade Talks

Business groups express disappointment in direction of negotiations.

World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy on Tuesday urged trading nations to take a constructive and higher level approach to coax a deal out of the ailing decade-old Doha round of free trade talks. Meanwhile a group of business organizations shared their disappointment over the lack of progress of the talks.

Lamy called on the 153 members "to listen to each other and to focus constructively on our way ahead. This is a time, if there ever was one, to think and act systemically," he added, calling for political involvement.

The WTO director general warned last Friday that the talks on expanding free trade system by cutting subsidies and barriers for farm produce, and reducing import tariffs on industrial goods and services were once again on the brink of failure.

Nonetheless, at a regular meeting of the organization's ruling General Council on Monday, he acknowledged that members were conscious of the risks of the enduring stalemate and the need for results in 2011.

"No member is ready to throw in the towel in terms of the what we have built so far, nor is anyone ready to let the Doha Development Round drift," he added.

The round of negotiations was launched in the Qatari capital Doha in 2001 primarily to help developing countries that felt left out of the economic benefits of globalization and the previous round of liberalization that set up the WTO in 1995.

Since then splits have emerged between rich and poor nations, as well as between economic powers such as the United States and European Union over agriculture, while emerging economies such as Brazil and India have gained weight and China has joined the WTO.

Lamy indicated that new ideas, especially on non agricultural market access [industrial markets] -- a key sticking point -- had been floated.

Nonetheless, a group of seven U.S. business groups, including the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers, on Monday issued a joint statement that expressed dismay with the current talks. We deeply regret that the WTO Doha Development Agenda trade round has not yet been able to achieve its intended objective of promoting world economic growth by expanding trade, said the statement in part.

We believe that what is currently on the table in Geneva lacks balance and ambition. According to the participants in the negotiations, the gaps in services, agriculture and manufactured goods appear to be unbridgeable under current circumstances. Real change in the substantive direction of the negotiations is the way the round will produce meaningful results, an objective we continue to strongly support, the statement said.

Other members that contributed to the joint statement include the American Farm Bureau Federation, Coalition of Service Industries, Emergency Committee for American Trade, National Foreign Trade Council, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Council for International Business.

Next week, the United Nations is holding a major conference in Istanbul on the world's least developed countries, while trade ministers from Asia, the Americas and industrialized nations are also due to meet at ASEAN, APEC and OECD gatherings over the coming weeks.

The WTO is due to hold a regular ministerial conference on Dec. 15 to 17, which is fast turning into a watershed for the Doha Round.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

IW also contributed to this report.

See also:

Boeing: WTO Ruling Confirms Airbus's 'Massive Market Advantage'

Trade Tension

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