Doha Trade Talks Likely To Miss Deadline, Says WTO Official

By Agence France-Presse The conclusion of the Doha round of trade talks aimed at liberalizing global commerce will probably have to be extended beyond a Jan. 1, 2005 deadline, WTO deputy director general Roderick Abbot said Oct. 6. He added that is was "more than likely" the WTO "will continue the current round of talks until the middle or end of 2006". If on Dec. 15 -- when the organization's general council meets in Geneva -- there is still no progress on the Cancun text, "a realistic calendar will impose itself" and the deadline will be pushed back, Abbot said. In early September, the WTO's 148 member countries tried but failed to revive global trade talks, in large part because of deep divisions between rich and poor countries. The conference came apart in a dispute over proposed WTO negotiations on rules governing cross-border investment, competition, government procurement and trade facilitation. "We are going to keep trying, but it will be much more complicated because discussions are strongly polarized, particularly concerning agriculture, where we really have no confirmation of what was negotiated over the past two years," said Abbot. The mandate of current WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi expires in September 2005, but Abbot said it could be extended by a year if necessary. Regarding how the WTO operates, he suggested that smaller committees negotiate thorny issues. "We must find ways for the WTO to function more efficiently. With 148 members there is no room for fruitful talks on trade. "At the WTO, there is no executive council with 25 or 30 countries representing the regions of the world. The WTO must go in this direction, even if it won't be easy to set up." Abbot suggested such a council comprise the European Union, Canada, China, Japan and the United States along with countries representing Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean. "We could try it informally for two years. It's worth a try," he said, while acknowledging any permanent change would have to be approved by the organization as a whole. Finally, he floated the idea of an annual WTO meeting, like those of the World Bank or International Monetary Fund. Cancun, he concluded, had been "a failure but not a tragedy, and not the end of the WTO", even though it had rendered the next steps very uncertain. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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