Divisions likely to cloud WTO push for trade deal

Updated: 2007-07-26 01:56

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 reporters.

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.

Poorest Nations

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.

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