Trade ministers are unlikely to gather in late March as proposed to decide whether a deal is possible this year in the World Trade Organisation's long-running Doha round, trade sources said on Thursday. The WTO's ministerial conference agreed in December to take stock of the prospects in late March. But WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy will tell the global trade body's General Council on Monday that there has not been enough progress in trade negotiations to bring in ministers for a decision, the sources said.And then there's talk about the much-vaunted sectoral deals:
Lamy took the decision at a meeting of key WTO delegations on Thursday at the end of a week of intense negotiations where Geneva-based ambassadors were reinforced by senior officials from national capitals. The decision underlines the mismatch in the eight-year-old talks, with presidents and prime ministers calling at summits for a Doha pact to boost the global economy in the wake of the crisis but failing to give their negotiators the leeway to cut a deal. "It's not clear who wants exactly what and who can't do precisely what," said one participant in Thursday's meeting.
Leaders at summits last year of the G20 rich and emerging countries and APEC Asian-Pacific grouping called for a deal by 2010 to open up world trade and help developing countries. A Doha agreement would cut rich nation's trade-distorting farm subsidies and open up their markets to more food imports, while developing countries let in more manufactured goods.
But there has been little movement on the U.S. demand, predating the Obama administration, for big emerging countries like Brazil, China and India to open up their markets more. In particular China and Brazil are resisting the U.S. call for sectoral deals, in which import duties would be eliminated in individual industrial sectors like chemicals.For all the troubles with Doha, it's certainly not impossible round to complete given that all previous multilateral trade negotiating rounds have eventually been concluded. I am still utterly unconvinced by the United States' insistence on these "sectoral" deals as I've stated before. If it were really serious about getting on with the proceedings, then it wouldn't try to waylay it with odd propositions. Meanwhile, developing countries should also try and be more realistic about the implementation of safeguard mechanisms.
Many delegates complain that the United States has not been specific enough in stating what it wants, or even that Washington is just not interested in a deal because of more pressing priorities such as healthcare or the financial crisis. The United States does not even have an ambassador at the WTO, as the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee, Michael Punke, has been held up in the Senate. Punke was in Geneva this week taking part in the talks but as a consultant for U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, not a full negotiator.
Senior officials are due to gather again in the week of March 22 for negotiations, and will then discuss the next steps for the Doha talks the following week, in the run-up to Easter. But Lamy and many others believe that the officials will not be able to decide whether a deal can be done. That is a political decision, requiring the participation of ministers.
Bogged down as Doha may be, we should heed what our man said before his fall from grace: "It's what you do next that counts."