WTO talks fail to move despite US offer to discuss service sector trade

24 Jul 2008


Mumbai: Commerce minister Kamal Nath joined his counterparts from the United States, European Union, Australia, Brazil, Japan and China for talks behind closed doors in an attempt to iron out differences among them even as negotiators meeting in Geneva struggled to salvage the floundering world trade talks.

Despite reports of offers from the US to discuss service sector trade, negotiations were generally dragged down on the fourth day, without any new offers on agricultural subsidies and industrial tariffs – the two issues that have long been dogging the Doha Round of trade negotiations.

Reports, meanwhile, said the United States has for the first time indicated that it was willing to discuss allowing more service professionals from India and other developing countries into the US.

But, with no real big efforts to bridge major differences on how to open up markets and spur a flagging world economy, negotiators were more or less resigned to fate. They said they expected to know in the coming hours whether there was any point in continuing with the talks.

US trade officials were given permission to discuss the visa issue, prompting trade representative Susan Schwab say ''a little progress" was made.

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim also said ''it's worth continuing to make an effort because there was some progress,'' adding, '' There are difficulties too."

India, too, is reported to have softened stand since the US offer to consider negotiations over service sector trade.

"Some issues are nearer solution. Other issues are clearer and better understood. But there is some way to go before the gaps are bridged," sad EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson.

But, behind the show of determination to pursue talks, the rich-poor divide remained unbridged.

In Brazil, president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva warned the United States and the EU they were risking a failure of the round.

"With no effective reduction in US farm subsidies nor an effective opening of the European farm market, there will be no deal and everyone will have to face their responsibilities," Brazilian media quoted Lula as saying.

Ministers from 30 of the 153 member countries, specially invited by WTO director general Pascal Lamy to Geneva this week, are making last-ditch attempts to salvage the Doha Round of world trade talks.

On agenda are six main issues on agriculture and three on industrial goods, ranging from huge western (mainly US) agricultural subsidies to measures aimed at opening up markets in developing nations.

Kamal Nath said progress was made on so-called sensitive products - a complex way of shielding certain farm products from tariff cuts in exchange for admitting a low-duty quota.

A US offer made earlier to lower its trade-distorting farm subsidies to $15 billion a year has been criticised by developing countries as ``negative'' offer, which, they claim, in reality is more than doubling its current effective subsidy of $7 billion.

The Doha Round of negotiations under the World Trade Organisation, launched in 2001, has been floundering in the absence of a compromise between the rich and the developing countries.

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