The Doha round negotiations on global trade currently taking place in Geneva are edging closer to another failure warned World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy.
"If things don’t change radically in the next hours or days, we’re facing a crisis," warned Lamy adding that "we’re putting at risk the Doha round future and the whole multilateral system".
Some 50 trade ministers are in Geneva, representing about a third of the WTO members with the specific task of agreeing the approach to achieving cuts in three areas: tariffs on agricultural imports, farm subsidies, and tariffs on industrial goods.
The European Union, along with Japan and a few other rich counties, is on the defensive in cutting farm tariffs, and is being pressed to go further.
United States meanwhile is in the trenches over agricultural subsidies, more so than the EU, and the big emerging economies, notably Brazil and India, are being pressed to cut their industrial tariffs more.
United States has accused the European Union, Brazil and India of not replying with concrete measures a US proposal from last year to lower tariffs, but other countries have described it as "non sustainable proposal."
Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim says he detects good will on the part of the negotiators on the different sides, but somehow, "the gaps don’t seem to diminish". Actually he’s under the impression that gaps "have actually widened over the last two or three months."
European Union Trade commissioner Peter Mandelson and Agriculture Commissioner Marianne Fischer Boel have both said the EU could, if others are willing to make the right moves, move closer to the proposal of the G20 led by Brazil and India, which are demanding cuts in farm tariffs by an average 54%.
But within a couple of hours, the French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde retorted that the G20 proposal was not one that can be accepted. So there is flexibility, but if the EU is divided it might not add up to much in practice.
The combination of disagreement and deadlines makes for a demanding workload and all ministers are trying to is agree by Sunday a frame outline which will be followed by detailed technical, legal and drafting issues to settle by the end of the year.
The Doha round talks has already missed several deadlines since it started in 2001.
But Mr. Lamy is warning that for the issues on the agenda "later would be too late" and is demanding more pragmatic steps.
However time is really pressing now in spite of a record or numberless deadlines among other things because June 30 next year the Trade Promotion Authority awarded to the White House by the US Congress expires.
This means that in a year’s time the US Congress reclaims the right to amend, rather than accept or reject, any trade agreements negotiated by President George Bush administration.
And will the outgoing Bush administration have the power to ask Congress for an extension of such a faculty is a big question mark.
Mercopress – www.mercopress.com