Last ditch struggle to save global food trade talks

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World trade organization

The WTO is in crisis following the dismal failure of last week's
agriculture talks in Geneva.

Ministers failed to narrow their differences in the ongoing Doha round negotiations, making any meaningful agreement on global agricultural trade tariffs extremely unlikely.

"The gaps in positions on the key questions of agriculture subsidies and tariffs and tariffs on industrial goods remain quite wide,"​ said WTO director general Pascal Lamy.

"Our goal of reaching agreement on the Doha round by the end of this year has without question been made more difficult."

Last minute negotiations at the WTO's Hong Kong Ministerial in December on global agricultural tariffs and trade resulted in an interim agreement. As the Doha round of these negotiations finally reaches its climax this month, there is a growing feeling that the initiative will not be grasped.

"It is the moment of truth,"​ urged Lamy at a press conference last month. "I don't think we can postpone the decision anymore. Later is too late."

This latest delay could therefore prove terminal. There have always been significant differences between various trading blocs - the EU trade commissioner recently called the US the 'biggest single block' to the successful completion of the round but there had been a vague anticipation that some sort of accommodation could be reached.

Despite the remoteness of this happening now, Lamy still sees a glimmer of hope. He met with Japan prime minister, and said he was "encouraged by the commitment to the round that I have seen from the highest officials in the Japanese government."

"When I return to Geneva this evening I will expand my consultations to other G-6 countries and try to test with them different hypotheses and different numbers as I seek to determine what are the red lines for these major players.

"Sometimes, it is easier for delegations to reveal their true bottom lines to a facilitator who knows the full picture and can ask What if? What if your trading partners moved more in this direction? What if they asked you to do more in that direction?"

Lamy accepted however that achieving any kind of consensus was still a long way off.

"No statistician worth his calculator would bet his house on 149 Member governments reaching agreement by consensus on 20 topics each with 10 sub-topics,"​ he said.

"And yet as I said before, this is doable provide our Members can summon the political will that these negotiations require.

"I said last month that we could not wait. That later would be too late. We have entered the red part of the red zone.

"If Members are serious about creating a more open, equitable and relevant trading system - that's what they say and I believe them when they say this - there is no option but to move now."

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