labels: economy - general, world trade organisation, agriculture
Geneva talks: For some, its time to pack their bagsnews
01 July 2006
Geneva: The pledge made by the world's richest countries to developing nations at the Qatari capital of Doha in 2001 that they would address favourably the heavy inequalities of global trade flows which have impoverished many countries is now coming back to haunt them.

After four-and-a-half years of stalled talks, and with time running out to arrive at a new global trade framework, some developing countries are now threatening to walk out of the Geneva talks.

Friday's session of global trade talks here began with Indian commerce minister Kamal Nath making it clear that he was prepared to take a flight back home as early as Saturday, frustrated as he was with the lack of response from rich nations.

"I am asking the United States and Europe, 'Please tell me how much you are willing to do,' " said Nath. "I don't seem to get an answer," he added, saying that he could take a flight home as soon as Saturday. "I am trying to get a seat tomorrow," he said.

The WTO's 149 members have so far failed twice, last year December and April this year, to produce the outline to an agreement. Such an agreement has the potential pump in at least $96 billion to the global economy, according to the World Bank. The bank also estimates that an agreement will provide a US$42 billion income boost to developing countries with the elimination of trade barriers.

So far, the European Union, the U.S., Brazil and India have called on each other to make the necessary concessions that would allow the impasse to be broken and enable the WTO to conclude a final agreement by the end of 2006.

In an interview given in London, Peter Sutherland, chairman of BP Plc, and ex-head of the WTO, said that failure would lead to a ``profusion of bilateral agreements, therefore damaging globalization as a process and also damaging the credibility of the institution that is the WTO, including its ability to decide in disputes.''

The Bush administration's negotiating authority, which allows Congress to approve or reject, but not amend trade deals, expires in July 2007. That dictates a year-end deadline for all the technical part of the deal to be completed by the WTO.

Meanwhile, Pascal Lamy, the director general of the trade organization, who is leading talks among the 149 member states, warned that the entire trading system was at risk if countries failed to address the specifics. "We are well into the red part of the red zone for finishing the round," Lamy said. He also scolded delegates for their "apparent inability to negotiate in any real sense."

After bickering among themselves, European officials said Friday that it was now up to the United States to alter its offer. The United States, however, has so far shown few signs of being ready to budge first, saying it already has made a "bold" offer to open up agricultural trade. It blames the impasse on the EU for holding back on farm tariffs and emerging trade powers like Brazil and India for protecting their industrial and services sectors.

Madan Dulloo, foreign minister of Mauritius, fired a warning shot after a meeting of the Group of 90 nations saying the bloc represented a sizable proportion of WTO membership and they would not allow the round to be hijacked by big power interests.

"No one is to be left behind, nobody is to be sidetracked," Dulloo said.

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Geneva talks: For some, its time to pack their bags