Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will meet with his counterparts from the US, India and China this week in what are being termed “definitive” discussions on freeing up global trade.
Trade representatives from the four key players in multilateral trade talks will meet for four days in Postdam, Germany, as of 19 June 2007, to find a compromise solution to the six-year Doha negotiations, which have been stalled since July 2006, in what many consider to be the last chance for the Round.
“We’re really hoping we can move the ball forward and ideally move it forward dramatically,” US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said, ahead of the meeting.
A deal between the so-called G-4 on reducing farm subsidies and cutting tariffs on industrial and agricultural products is considered key to achieving a final agreement between the 150 members of the WTO by the end of 2007. Most observers agree that meeting this deadline would require a deal on modalities – the contentious formula and figures for calculating tariff and subsidy cuts – by the end of July.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed optimism after the G8 meeting earlier this month, saying: “We are now very close…We are only a few percentage points and a few billion dollars away from getting a deal.” But other observers are more cautious. Former WTO chief Peter Sutherland said: “I don’t want to be apocalyptic about the world trading system, but it is in danger, no doubt about that.”
Current WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy still appears confident that “an agreement is now within our reach”, but he warned that mounting US protectionism presents a risk for the talks.
The Bush administration’s trade-promotion authority (TPA), which allows the White House to adopt international trade agreements without any possibility for Congress to amend them, is due to expire in less than two weeks, and it remains unclear whether the Democratic Congress, increasingly sceptical as to the benefits of economic globalisation, will agree to its extension.
Lamy warned that the TPA extension will be critical as trading partners are not likely to agree to a deal that could later be picked apart by US lawmakers. “Many US trading partners will consider that no movement to renew the trade-promotion authority would signal that the US might have lost faith in the round, and this would certainly have an impact on the dynamics of the negotiations.”
Despite the closing time window, however, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath stressed that developing countries would not be pressurised: “The content of this round is more important than the timeline,” he said. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim agreed: “We all know that we are in a negotiating phase but we don’t want to sacrifice basic positions just for a speedy result.”
Peter Mandelson has warned that the EU could come back on an earlier offer to open up the bloc’s market if the big players fail to converge. “Everyone has got to give something. I think the tolerance and patience is running out in Geneva,” he said, according to the UK’s The Guardian newspaper.