Associated France Press (AFP) 25/5/2006
Warnings for WTO deal as trade talks founder in Paris
by Adam Plowright
PARIS (AFP) - A senior US official cast doubt on chances the WTO will be able to wrap up a global trade deal by December and Egypt warned that negotiations could collapse if the needs of developing countries were ignored.
"There’s an awful lot of work that has to be done and frankly it’s going to be very difficult to conclude in the remaining six months of this year," US Deputy Trade Representative Peter Allgeier told reporters on the sidelines of an OECD ministerial conference here.
Members of the World Trade Organisation are struggling to meet their deadline of year-end 2006 to approve a new global trade deal designed to break down barriers to international commerce to help poor countries.
The remarks from Allgeier followed a hint from the EU that the bloc might be prepared to improve its offer on trade in farm products. The signal provided encouragement to some but drew a cool response from Washington.
Also on Wednesday, Egyptian Trade Minister Rashid Mohamed Rashid warned of the perils of forgetting developing countries, particularly African nations.
WTO talks are currently deadlocked, with the United States under pressure to cut its subsidies to farmers, while the EU is being asked to make deeper cuts in the tariffs imposed on imported farm products.
Both the US and EU are demanding greater access to markets in developing countries for their industrial and service products.
"With respect to closing gaps on agriculture, there remain significant differences, not just between the US and Europe," said Allgeier, who was speaking after a meeting of incoming US trade chief Susan Schwab and some of her WTO counterparts at the OECD gathering.
The Doha round, which was started in 2001, was meant to have been completed in 2004. Negotiators also missed their last deadline, April 30, for deciding on the mathematics of the final accord.
The signal from the EU that it would be prepared to improve its offer on farm products -- providing other partners showed a similar readiness to be flexible -- seemed unlikely to breathe life into negotiations between the EU and United States.
Schwab indicated that the EU proposal was likely to be insufficient and Allgeier stated that "a minimal change" would not be enough to kickstart negotiations.
"We have to see what the move is," said Allgeier later. "We hope the EU will be able to make a very significant move."
European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who negotiates on behalf of the 25 members of the EU, did not specify the details of his enhanced offer, but Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile had hailed it as a show of flexibility.
Elsewhere, Egyptian minister Rashid criticised what he saw as undue focus on differences between the United States, the European Union and emerging giant Brazil. He warned of a risk that "we are going to repeat something of what happened in Cancun".
WTO talks in the Mexican resort of Cancun collapsed in September 2003 after poor countries dug their heels in on the issue of farm subsidies in rich countries and the high tariffs levied on agriculture imports from developing nations.
"It’s not my personal position. I raise it in the context of making sure that we don’t end up with a deal between Europe, the United States and Brasil and ignore all the rest," said Rashid.
Talks at the OECD conference, which is traditionally a forum for WTO negotiations, were hamstrung this year by the absence of key representatives of emerging countries, namely Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath.
An informal meeting of ministers who attended the OECD event took place at the Australian embassy in Paris on Tuesday evening.
All those present agreed that the structure of a trade agreement had to be agreed by the end of June in order to conclude the Doha round before the end of the year.
"There was very clear recognition by ministers here that there is no availability for slippage in time at all," said Vaile of Australia on Tuesday.