GENEVA - Deep divisions
between rich and poor countries, and within the developing world itself, are
likely to cloud a September push for a long-sought global free trade pact,
diplomats said on Wednesday.
Negotiators at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva voiced discontent
over proposals to break a deadlock in the talks, which have dragged on for
nearly six years, over tariffs on industrial goods such as textiles, chemicals,
fuels and cars.
The United States said the range of cuts suggested by Canada's ambassador to
the WTO, Don Stephenson, who chairs negotiations on non-agricultural market
access, known as NAMA, were not big enough to boost global trade flows.
"It is very obvious that there is going to have to be a lot of negotiating
because there are rather large differences between countries," U.S. ambassador
Peter Allgeier said on the sidelines of a session on Stephenson's proposals,
which will form the starting point for talks after an August break.
"The pressure is on all the negotiating teams here when we come back in
September to really bring this thing to a successful conclusion," Allgeier told
Poor countries in the NAMA-11 group, which includes Brazil, Indonesia, South
Africa and Egypt, told the Geneva session the proposed cuts were "too onerous"
and "not consistent with the development needs" of nations that were meant to
benefit from the trade talks, known as the Doha round.
Export-dependent emerging powers such as Mexico, Chile and Thailand voiced
support for the proposals, which said developing countries should cut import
tariffs more than they have offered, though less than rich nations do.
The world's poorest countries would be shielded from cuts under a Doha deal,
which would also include steps to open up farm and services markets. The World
Bank has said the pact could add $96 billion annually to the global economy.
Stephenson said his plans, floated last week, were intended to "challenge
everyone" to inch toward consensus in the talks, which have struggled since
their 2001 launch to overcome poor countries' fears of exposing their industry
to more competition.
"I really do believe, based on what you told me, that you will have
difficulty finding consensus too far below or too far above the numbers I have
proposed," he told the session.
Parallel negotiations on farming subsidies and tariffs, chaired by New
Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer, are also due to resume in September in a
concerted push toward wrapping up the main elements of a Doha deal in 2007.
While the two issues are being negotiated separately, many countries are
seeking trade-offs in one area to make concessions in the other.
Both Stephenson and Falconer said they would not impose new deadlines on the
talks, saying concluding the Doha accord "will take the time it takes."
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has been urging countries to conclude the
agreement this year to avoid having talks spill over into U.S. presidential
election period in 2008, when Washington would have less room to manoeuvre.