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A six-year push for a global trade deal faces a strong risk of collapse, Europe's trade chief said on Friday, turning up the pressure on negotiators ahead of a meeting expected in the coming weeks.
"I now fear that Doha is facing a high risk of failure – the first failure ever for a multilateral trade round," EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said in a speech to trade ministers from some of the world's poorest countries meeting in Lesotho.
"We are faced with a final window for this deal."
The World Trade Organisation's Doha round was launched in late 2001 to give the global economy a boost and help poor nations fight poverty by lowering barriers to their exports.
But the negotiations have lurched from crisis to crisis as rich and poor countries argue about who should do what.
Next year's change of administration in Washington could push back the negotiations by several more years or cause them to collapse, trade officials have said.
The WTO is expected to summon top trade officials to Geneva in March or April as it searches for a breakthrough.
But the chairman of the WTO's talks on agriculture, New Zealand ambassador Crawford Falconer, said slow progress on the talks threatened that timetable.
"I can't see myself how ministers could meet in March. The way things are going it would require a miracle. April is still possible," he said after the WTO's 151 members completed a two-week review of a revised negotiating text he had produced.
Mandelson said the EU had made a generous offer on removing barriers to its protected farm markets. Now the United States had to follow suit with cuts to farm subsidies, while big developing countries – such as Brazil and China – needed to open up their markets in industrial goods and services.
DO WE WANT A DEAL?
A latest draft negotiating text produced by WTO mediators on industrial goods created "new ambiguities," he said.
European and US manufacturing groups say they are alarmed that the new text omitted proposed limits on the number of products that developing countries can shield from tariff cuts, potentially reducing their ability to find new export markets.
"Flexibilities so wide that they will effectively neuter new market access, whether in developed or emerging economies, will not fly," Mandelson said, stressing the world's poorest countries would not be asked to make concessions.
"But the deal remains to be made if we want it. The question is if we do," he said.
A deal at the WTO would give the faltering global economy a confidence boost and insurance against protectionism but failure would send "the worst possible signal...as we search out global solutions on climate change and financial flows."
Negotiators from the WTO's 151 countries have started to float possible trade-offs between agriculture and industrial goods despite a lack of progress on the individual areas, diplomats have said.
Any eventual deal will require rich countries to open up their agricultural markets by cutting farm tariffs and subsidies in return for developing countries cutting industrial tariffs and liberalising services to open up their markets.
But both rich and poor countries have complained they are being asked to do too much compared with their partners. (Reuters)
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