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Talks to Reach Doha Deal Stall Again

The United States, China, Brazil and India are unable to agree on lowering trade barriers.

GENEVA — Renewed efforts to broker a breakthrough deal in the troubled Doha global trade talks by yearend and lower barriers to trade in agriculture and industrial goods were derailed Friday.

Bitter differences among the U.S., Brazil, China and India over slashing duties more aggressively in select industrial sectors, and largely between the U.S. and India over terms for a special safeguard to shield poor farmers from surges in imports, torpedoed hopes of calling ministers to Geneva to close a deal before the Christmas break.

Round-the-clock diplomacy by World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy, which included video conferences with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and her counterparts from India and China, and direct interventions of national leaders such as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, couldn’t bridge the political divide.

As a result, Lamy decided not to call ministers to Geneva because, as he told delegates from 153 WTO countries, such a decision “would be running an unacceptably high risk of failure.”

He continued, “My sense is that we should now focus on seeing how we gather the necessary political energy into the new year.”

The latest setback comes less than a month after world leaders from 20 major rich and emerging powers, meeting in Washington over the global financial crisis, instructed trade ministers to strive for a deal by yearend. Trade ministers from more than 30 key nations failed in July to secure a breakthrough agreement. Similar efforts failed in the summers of 2006 and 2007.

“We are disappointed the director-general was not able to establish a basis for a productive ministerial that would lead to an ambitious and balanced Doha outcome,” said a spokeswoman for Schwab.

Brazil’s foreign minister, Celso Amorim, echoing concerns shared by China and India, blamed the latest setback on “excessive demands” by the U.S. in select industrial sectors.

Deputy USTR Peter Allgeier dismissed the claims as “inaccurate” and, alluding to the big three emerging nations, noted they have not taken seriously efforts to slash duties deeper in some industrial sectors. Allgeier said, “They’re unwilling to identify even a single sectorial that they’re willing to negotiate on, putting aside whether they will join them.”