WTO Industrial Goods Talks Stuck On Numbers

WTO negotiators remain far from a deal on cutting customs duties on industrial goods, failing to agree even loosely on the mathematics despite a looming deadline, sources close to the talks said April 19.

Diplomats from the 149 governments in the World Trade Organization proved wary of a suggestion by Canadian Ambassador Don Stephenson at a meeting April 18 to come up with figures "to put in the brackets of the text" of a draft accord, officials said. Brazil, backed by many other developing countries felt that the "moment was not ripe to discuss ranges of numbers for the core issues", said officials. The U.S. said that it was "unsure" that coming up with figures at this stage would be helpful, and Switzerland said: "If nobody wants to move, you cannot make them move." The EU also expressed concerns, with its delegate saying: "What I hear today is a step backwards."

The April 30 deadline was part of a loose, last-minute agreement at a WTO conference in December in Hong Kong. At the conference, governments tried to bring some momentum back to the struggling Doha Round of negotiations, which was launched in 2001 with the aim of tearing down barriers to commerce and using trade to boost the economies of poor nations. But there has been little solid progress since then, because of enduring disputes. Developing nations are pressing for more access for their farm goods on rich countries' markets, while wealthy WTO members in turn are pushing for more openings for their industrial and service sectors.

WTO members are hoping to complete the Doha Round by the end of this year -- 15 months later than originally planned.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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