GENEVA — Irritated by a new draft declaration for next month’s ministerial trade summit in Hong Kong, tensions have escalated between rich and developing countries ahead of the crucial Doha Round meeting.
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and counterparts from the European Union, Brazil, India and Japan are slated to meet in Geneva Friday in an effort to come up with a more refined and less controversial draft declaration setting up a blueprint for the summit.
But failure to narrow the differences over contentious areas such as lowering tariffs on agriculture and industrial goods could put the outcome of the six-day summit that begins Dec. 13 in jeopardy and set back the chances of concluding the Doha Round at the end of 2006, top trade envoys said.
A successful deal would help lower trade barriers in goods and services worth over $11 trillion a year.
World Trade Organization director-general Pascal Lamy told chief negotiators from 149 countries on Monday that on agriculture and Nonagricultural Market Access, also known as NAMA, “there are still very significant divergences.”
Similar differences between rich and poor countries led to the collapse of the last summit in Cancun, Mexico, in September 2003.
The reactions to the draft circulated by Lamy and Amina Mohamed, chairman of the WTO General Council, on Saturday have heightened concerns of key WTO member countries.
Peter Allgeier, deputy USTR, asked about the draft declaration, said: “We think it needs to be built up on agriculture and NAMA and we’ll work with others to do just that.”
Ambassador Clodoaldo Hugueney of Brazil, speaking on behalf of the G20, which includes India, China and South Africa, said: “The draft ministerial before us is, however, disappointing with regard to substance. We are still very far from completing the modalities for the agriculture negotiations.”
He said the document “reflects the lack of convergence.”
Carlo Trojan, EU ambassador to the WTO, told delegates the declaration was “unambitious and unbalanced,” citing inequity between the agricultural and NAMA proposals.
The EU, which has taken a firm stance on opening its agriculture to greater international competition, has linked further movement to major developing countries such as India and Brazil putting forward solid market-opening commitments on industrial goods and services. The U.S. has also called for these major emerging economies to ease restrictions on goods and services.
Benin’s ambassador, Samuel Amehou, reflecting the concerns of other West African cotton-producing nations — Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso — asked by reporters about the draft declaration’s section on cotton, said, “The text has no substance. We want to see full modalities. We want the end of export subsidies at the end of this year.”
He warned that if the cotton issue was not solved in Hong Kong, “We are not going to be part of the consensus.”