WTO's Moore Warns Prospects For New Trade Round Are 'Fragile'

By BridgeNews The World Trade Organization risks being condemned to "a long period of irrelevance" and devalued as a negotiating forum if its 142 member governments cannot agree on launching a new trade round, according to its Director General Mike Moore. Speaking July 30 in Geneva as delegates tried to bridge their differences before the WTO's November ministerial in Qatar, Moore issued his starkest warning yet of the price of failure. "The situation is fragile," Moore told delegates. "The process could implode and become unmanageable." The two-day meeting was called by Moore as a "reality check" on progress. The WTO's governments are all keen to avoid a repeat of Seattle in 1999, when too many differences were left to ministers to resolve after diplomats preparing the meeting failed to secure agreements. However, many developing country member governments say they are unwilling to negotiate new trade rules in a new round until the problems they have with implementing commitments they made in 1993 are resolved. Meanwhile Stuart Harbinson, Hong Kong's ambassador to the WTO, who is chairing the two-day meeting, warned that delegations have to begin turning posturing into concrete positions. "It is not simply the extent of the outstanding differences in position that is worrying," Harbinson said, "but the apparently entrenched nature of those differences." Negotiations on agriculture and commercial services began in January 2000, as mandated by the Uruguay Agreement in 1993. However, there is no consensus on whether new subjects should be added to the agenda. The European Union and Japan are pushing for an ambitious and much broader round, with the inclusion of international competition and investment laws. Agricultural exporting nations, led by the 18-nation strong Cairns Group that contains Australia, Brazil, and Argentina, want to see radical changes to international farm trade to boost their market access. While many nations are willing to consider addressing industrial tariffs, the U.S. is resisting suggestions that anti-dumping duties should be tackled. Meanwhile, a 'plan B' is thought to be in preparation in case there is no consensus over the summer for a new round. "If the Doha [Qatar] meeting were taking place in September," said Moore, "I would now be saying that the opportunity had been missed." However, he insisted, with sufficient movement in national positions during August, a launch remains "perfectly possible" in November.

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