No breakthrough at trade talks

The European Union, Australia, Brazil, India, Japan and the United States — all key players in the World Trade Organisation – held two days of talks hoping to break a deadlock over the stalled Doha round of WTO negotiations.

“We had a good meeting so far, testing both the possibilities and the limitations of these negotiations,” EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters, describing the meeting as “constructive”.

An initiative by the United States and Canada, which provides a numerical simulation of the effect tariff cuts would have on imports and exports in 10 main WTO members was explored for the first time at the meeting.

“We’ve had a very helpful discussion because we had numbers,” said US Trade Representative Rob Portman, referring to the initiative.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said member states were not yet ready to move forward collectively, but he appeared upbeat about concluding the round by the end of the year.

The WTO, however, has a poor track record for meeting its self-imposed deadlines.

Frustration

International aid agency Oxfam voiced frustration at what it saw as the failure of rich countries to offer any meaningful reform in agriculture at the London talks.

“The EU and the US are acting like used car salesmen. You don’t need to look under the bonnet of their proposals to know there’s something dodgy about them,” Oxfam spokeswoman Liz Stuart said.

The meeting marked an attempt to narrow differences over the contentious topic of tariffs on agricultural products and industrial goods, ahead of a deadline of April 30 for a settlement of those issues.

Trade officials hope that will allow adequate time to sew together the complex details of a wider-ranging trade deal by the end of 2006.

Consensus between the so-called Group of Six in London would give fresh impetus to the Doha round of WTO negotiations, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 with the aim of boosting development in the world’s poorest nations.

Agreement between the G6 is seen as essential if the 143 other
WTO members are to follow.

The London event, initiated and chaired by Mr Mandelson, was also attended by WTO Director General Pascal Lamy and EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

It was the first such gathering since a WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong last December overcame one long-standing obstacle that had defied previous deadlines.

The WTO’s 149 member nations agreed at the conference to eliminate farm subsides by 2013 — but tariffs remain a crucial stumbling block.

The agricultural policies of developed countries such as the
EU and the US are under fire from poor countries, who claim they constitute an unfair trade advantage and amount to protectionism.

On the other hand, developing countries such as India and Brazil have resisted pressure from rich countries to open up their markets to industrial goods and services.

Mr Mandelson led the London talks alongside Mr Portman, Mr Amorim, and the Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath and his Australian counterpart Mark Vaile. Economy Minister Toshihiro Nikai and Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa represented Japan.


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