WTO Members Miss Deadline To Relaunch Trade Talks, But Ready To Negotiate

By Agence France-Presse Members of the World Trade Organization missed a key deadline on Dec. 15 to revive global trade talks but said negotiations on farming and other tough topics should resume early next year before political events such as a U.S. presidential election take center stage. WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi said progress had been made since a doomed meeting in Cancun, Mexico, three months ago, and he urged countries to move from demonstrating a willingness to re-engage to taking concrete action. Despite the upbeat comments, rifts between the WTO's 146 member states over agriculture and industrial goods remained wide, and some diplomats doubted they would conclude the trade liberalization talks by Jan. 1, 2005, as scheduled. "Our collective aim . . . as instructed by ministers in Cancun, was to arrive at a point where the negotiations can resume full momentum," Supachai told a meeting of the general council -- the WTO's executive arm. "We are not at this point yet, but we should not be disheartened," he said in a speech at the WTO's Geneva headquarters. Unable to agree on core issues such as farming at the conference in Mexico last September, ministers told their WTO envoys to find a compromise by Dec. 15 to restart the so-called Doha Development Agenda. Next year, "in spite of all the political difficulties, I don't see any reason why we should not move forward if the political will finally translates itself into action," the WTO's top negotiator, Carlos Perez del Castillo -- chairman of the general council -- told a news conference. Perez del Castillo said eight negotiating groups, which were created to discuss the main themes in the Doha round but have been suspended since Cancun, should be re-activated -- a suggestion that member states appeared to accept. But this will only occur once the heads of the groups are replaced next month -- a process that will likely drag on until mid-February. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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