By  on October 9, 2007

GENEVA — The French minister for trade, Hervé Novelli, warned Monday that the "window of opportunity is shrinking" to reach a breakthrough deal on the Doha trade talks by the end of the year.

Novelli said after discussions with World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy and top envoys from developed and emerging economies that the WTO-sponsored talks are at "a critical time" that includes the 2008 U.S. presidential election. "The negotiating mandate is becoming less and less clear, and more jeopardized," he added.

The troubled negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, came back under the full WTO jurisdiction in July after the failure of the G4 — the U.S., European Union, Brazil and India — ministerial talks in Potsdam, Germany. Those talks were unable to hammer out parameters for lowering subsidies and tariffs for agriculture and industrial goods.

Novelli said there was a strong feeling of uncertainty concerning the U.S. attitude and political uncertainties on agricultural subsidies.

Senior U.S. officials have indicated that they accept recent tariff formula proposals, but Novelli said issues such as cotton "are not resolved," and added, "the U.S. has not made a proposal that might enable us to move on."

Novelli admitted France had sensitivities about providing greater market access for a range of products, including beef and sugar.

Turning to industrial tariff cut issues, where the positions of the EU and the U.S. are more closely aligned, Novelli said he wants to see greater market access from emerging nations such as Brazil, China and India. He said these countries were now playing a greater role than a few years ago. He said China is on track to become the top exporter in the world next year and stressed "it would be unfair to treat them as developing countries."

Asked about rich countries agreeing to reduce their maximum tariffs for industrial goods, Novelli said such a move would pose difficulties for the French automobile and textiles industries. On the exports front, the French official said the strong euro is worrisome and is causing difficulties for exporting industries. France is "deeply concerned" by the undervaluation of the Chinese currency, Novelli said.

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