Too many disagreements force postponement of WTO ministerial

March 8th, 2008 - 6:34 pm ICT by admin  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 8 (IANS) A planned ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) aimed at breaking a deadlock in the Doha Development Round has been put off because of too many disagreements. Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath and European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson announced the postponement after a meeting in London Friday.

“At the moment, just in agriculture, they have 130 disagreements. You can’t sit in a ministerial with 130 (disagreements). These must be brought down to 15 or so for ministers to sit down and take a decision,” Kamal Nath said.

At a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, in January both Kamal Nath and Mandelson had backed a ministerial summit around Easter, which falls on March 23 this year.

The meeting was aimed at giving a much-needed political push to the stalled Doha Development Round, which is aimed at setting down the rules of international trade and takes its name from the city where it was launched in 2001.

Their optimism was also echoed by chief US trade negotiator Susan Schwab at Davos, but she appeared to backtrack last week, saying India, Brazil and South Africa must open up their markets more for imports of manufactured goods from rich nations.

Kamal Nath remained optimistic Friday, saying: “I hope the WTO ministerial meeting is held in April, when the number of points of disagreement are lessened.”

Mandelson said he hoped “in the coming month or so it will be possible to make the progress required in Geneva for a ministerial meeting to take place. We’re not there yet, but it is doable”.

“A successful outcome is not going to drop into our laps. We have to do it for ourselves,” he said at a joint news conference.

The postponement comes after weeks of uncertainty, with many Geneva-based diplomats privately warning that a March 23-deadline was going to be difficult to meet.

Although Mandelson mentioned disagreements over manufactured goods, WTO watchers in Geneva say negotiations on agriculture too have made very little progress.

Diplomats have been given time off from the formal WTO negotiations on agriculture so that they can hold informal and bilateral discussions among themselves. But many who are based in national capitals are said to be leaving Geneva for their countries, WTO watchers said.

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