GENEVA — World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy will try to rally political support for the faltering Doha trade talks when he meets with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London Monday.
There are growing concerns that the divide between rich and developing countries is threatening to derail the fragile six-year talks and put in serious jeopardy any prospects for a breakthrough by the end of the year.
As part of his efforts to advance the talks, Lamy is also slated to meet on Monday with Indian Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath.
The talks have imploded several times since being launched in 2001 in Doha, Qatar, over how to lower subsidies and tariffs for agriculture and industrial goods. Discussions hit another complication this week after 100 developing nations, led by South Africa, India, Brazil and Argentina, and supported by China, proposed tough new demands related to non-agricultural market access, also known as NAMA.
The proposals are viewed as too intransigent by the U.S. and other industrial powers, including the European Union and Japan. The controversial text, put forward by South Africa, stipulates: "Agriculture determines the ambition of the round. NAMA modalities have to be built around and lead to a result comparable to what is achievable in agriculture."
This hard-line stance, presented in a WTO session Tuesday, drew fire from Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier and influential U.S. business groups.
"While we accept the central importance of agriculture in these negotiations, it is not consistent with either the single undertaking...or with the possibility of a successful round to negotiate as if the non-agriculture topics, including NAMA and services, are simply residuals to be calculated after the dust has settled on agriculture," Allgeier said. "That approach is a formula for failure."
Bill Reinsch, president of the U.S. National Foreign Trade Council, an umbrella group for top U.S. corporations, said the proposal "focuses more on what advanced developing countries can't do on industrial goods market opening in the Doha Round, instead of what they can do."
In a statement, the trade council said, "Absent political will on all sides to liberalize trade, the negotiations will not conclude successfully."Several Western envoys said Thursday that the mood in Geneva resembles that of the failed Cancun summit in September 2003 when major differences ruptured the talks for almost a year.
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