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25 June 2024

Trade ministers chew over Doha at Davos lunch

By Agencies

Trade ministers were due to hold an informal lunch meeting on Saturday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss moving forward global trade talks, organisers said.

Around 20 ministers were due to take part including US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, Peter Mandelson for the European Union, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath as well as ministers from Australia, Brazil and Indonesia.

The lunch, closed to the media, was due to be preceded by a meeting of ministers from the G20 - a group of developing countries opposed to farm subsidies in the developed world.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) head Pascal Lamy had stressed on Friday that the lunch discussions were not formal negotiations but was upbeat on prospects for wrapping up the Doha trade round

this year.

"We probably can conclude this big negotiation within 2008," Lamy said in Davos. "Basically the politics of it are doing better and the leaders ... they want this."

The WTO's Doha round on trade liberalisation has been bogged down for the past six years in disputes between developed and developing countries over agricultural subsidies and import


Lamy also said that reaching a deal would be the best way of heading off the risk of increased protectionism posed by the prospect by an economic slowdown in the United States. "When economies grow less, there is a bit more risk of protectionism and this enhances the value of your hedging operation against protectionism, which is a WTO deal," Lamy said.

He added that added momentum could come from it being the final year of US President Bush's term in office. Bush steps down in

January. "The answer from the US side now is clear. Bush wants a deal before leaving. That's absolutely crucial, because it means that the fact that the US is in an electoral year creates a sort of momentum," Lamy said.

On the side of the developing world, Nath was also upbeat.
"With the gloomy world economic outlook there could perhaps be one silver lining to this, and that is the conclusion of the trading round," Nath had said in Davos on Wednesday.

"For the last several years we have been coming here and saying that by the time we meet next year we will have closed the round. I hope we don't have to say this next year," he told a news conference.

"We are hoping that the signals we get from the major players is a step forward towards the final mile. As we know this is a marathon and the last mile is the toughest mile."

Celso Amorim, Brazil's foreign minister and WTO negotiator, said in Davos that the fact that time was running out for Bush could help move forward trade talks. He also warned against protectionism.

"The elections in the US could be a factor of  acceleration. The economic financial crisis could  bring a protectionist temptation but history has  told us that that results in a worse crisis,"

Amorim said.

The lunch was due to be followed by a  series of press conferences by Doris Leuthard, Swiss economy minister, Egyptian Trade Minister

Rachid Rachid and Schwab. (AFP)