British minister hopeful of Doha deal, sealing India-EU pact(Lead)

April 24th, 2008 - 10:16 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 24 (IANS) Fresh from meeting with Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath, Britain’s minister for international trade Thursday said there was a 60 percent chance that a world trade deal will be struck by the end of the year. “There’s a 60-40 chance of a Doha deal,” Gareth Thomas said at a briefing for bankers organised by Deutsche Bank.

“Very significant issues need to be resolved, but we are closer to a deal now than at any other point for many years,” he said after his briefing on trade relations between India and the European Union (EU).

“There has been significant progress in [talks on] agriculture and Non-Agriculture Market Access,” he said, adding negotiators were working toward kick-starting talks in the week beginning May 19 in order to achieve a deal by the end of the year.

Thomas is the first trade minister of a major developed country to express optimism about a year-end conclusion to the long-stalled Doha Development Round being negotiated at the World Trade Organization in Geneva.

Negotiators, who are trying to lay down the rules of world trade, have been told to work toward a year-end deal because failure to do so could set the entire process back by at least two years, the coming general elections in the US making 2009 a “non-year”.

Thomas told IANS he met Kamal Nath at a meeting of the UN’s trade and development agency UNCTAD in Ghana, Accra, Monday and that the Indian minister was “absolutely positive” about reaching an agreement on the Doha talks - named after the Qatari capital where the talks were launched in 2001.

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy was “genuinely very optimistic in private”, he said, adding the main issue for European countries was “pace” - the speed of negotiations, which needed to pick up.

Separately, Thomas welcomed a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between India and the 27-nation EU but stressed it should follow a Doha deal - although New Delhi has given its negotiators a year-end deadline for the FTA.

“It needs to be underpinned by the Doha agreement. We need fair international trade rules first,” Thomas told IANS.

The British minister acknowledged there still were sticking points around the two major issues at the WTO talks: agricultural sector subsidies doled out by rich countries and the reluctance of developing countries to further lower their industrial tariffs.

On Services, the third important strand at the Doha negotiations, Thomas said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had recently discussed with US President George W. Bush the need to move on Mode4 - a key Indian demand that calls for rich nations to allow the free temporary movement of skilled workers across countries and regions.

Britain was also calling on its EU partners to “give ground” on Mode4.

“An internal discussion is happening in Europe but I don’t believe it will be a deal breaker,” Thomas said.

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