GENEVA (AFP) – Trade ministers were set to wrap up three days of WTO talks Wednesday with no compromise in sight for ending an eight-year stalemate on framing a trade liberalisation accord ahead of a 2010 deadline.
Parties appeared unwilling to budge on the level of cuts to agriculture subsidies and industrial product tariffs which caused the impasse between developed and emerging nations in the Doha round of global trade talks.
There was hardly any forward movement particularly by the United States and India, blamed for the failure of the last ministerial-level talks in July 2008 over a disagreement over subsidy protection for poor Indian farmers.
Expectations were high that the change in top trade negotiators from India and the United States following elections in the two countries would help set the ball rolling for a successful outcome of the Doha Round.
“Doha does not seem to be fully on the agenda of the United States,” French External Commerce Minister Anne-Marie Idrac told AFP, adding that she had the same impression of India.
Since the collapse of negotiations in July 2008, the “crisis is far from being eased,” Idrac lamented.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma met at least twice at the sidelines of the Geneva meeting, with the US envoy calling on trade-driven developing nations to open up their markets.
“The United States has been clear that we will need to achieve meaningful market opening that will result in significant new trade flows, particularly in the world’s fastest-growing economies,” Kirk said.
But Sharma said key sticking points such as cotton — which is being held up by disagreements over US subsidies — needed to be dealt with “sympathetically.”
China and India are among the top growth drivers among emerging nations but Beijing has not been as eager as India in bridging the gap in negotiations with the United States, one Western diplomat familiar with the Doha talks said.
“The UK is disappointed that WTO members have not yet been able to take the final steps to agree an outline (Doha) deal,” said Gareth Thomas, British Trade Minister.
“If we don’t make progress soon, we will miss our 2010 target and that would be a great loss for the global economy and the world’s poorest,” he said, in a reminder of the target date set by the leaders of the Group of 20 emerging and developed economies.
Ministers are expected to meet again early next year to give a final push to negotiations as trade is being seen as critical to helping the global economy recover from the worst recession in decades.
A successful Doha outcome would boost the global economy by around 170 billion dollars annually, some estimates show.
World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy has warned ministers that time was not on their side even though about 80 percent of the deal had been clinched.
Since the start of Doha talks in the Qatari capital in 2001, deadlines have been missed several times.
“As the Doha Round stalls, free trade agreements are being concluded with countries that have strong growth potential and large domestic markets,” said Japanese trade minister Masayuki Naoshima.
But he hastened to add that less developed countries tend to be left behind by the trade agreements outside of the Doha deal.
“The days of only nice statements should be over,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, calling nations to be straightforward as they attempt to narrow their differences.