Developing countries called yesterday for a quick deal in the World Trade Organisation’s Doha round of talks to help poor nations by removing unfair distortions in the global trading system.
Trade ministers from Brazil, India and Indonesia issued the call after a meeting on the eve of a WTO conference in Geneva.
"We want to keep this round alive and we want to conclude it early and successfully, and by successfully we mean friendly to development," Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told a news conference.
Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma and Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu echoed his words, while ministers from other developing nations from Argentina to China sat with them.
"The developing countries have much at stake, most to gain and much to lose," Sharma said.
Not on the agenda
The Doha round was launched eight years ago to open markets and help developing countries prosper through more trade.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy says the agreement is 80% there, but big differences remain on exactly how the WTO’s 153 members will cut agricultural and manufacturing tariffs, slash farm subsidies and open trade in services.
Political leaders have called for the deal to conclude in 2010, and WTO members plan to take stock of the talks early next year to see what needs to be done to reach agreement in time.
Because Lamy and negotiators feel the deal is not ripe for a final political push, negotiations on Doha are not on the agenda of the three-day conference, which will review the WTO’s work, but are certain to be discussed on the sidelines.
The G20 group at the WTO, which is coordinated by Brazil and campaigns to open market for farm produce and eliminate subsidies, issued a call, backed by other developing countries, saying agriculture must be central to any deal because of the way subsidies from rich countries squeeze farmers in poor nations out of the market.
Another communiqué from the G33 group coordinated by Indonesia, which fights to ensure poor countries are shielded from the most destabilising effects of market opening in agriculture, said any deal must protect the livelihoods of subsistence farmers.
Around 3000 demonstrators in Geneva last week demanded that agriculture should be taken out of the WTO talks, in a protest that turned violent when masked groups rampaged through the city smashing windows and setting cars on fire.
But Amorim said the activists appeared to be misinformed, even if the peaceful ones were acting in good faith.
"A fair deal in agriculture which protects the interests and livelihood concerns of subsistence farmers is important," Sharma said.
Many negotiators blame the United States, which has been focused on other issues from healthcare to Afghanistan, for slow progress in the Doha talks.
Brazil’s Amorim said the bilateral contacts sought by Washington with major emerging powers were making no progress, because the United States had demanded more but had not been precise about what concessions it was seeking.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the meeting would be an opportunity to take stock of the global trading system.
"The United States engages with other economies and plays a leadership role at the World Trade Organisation in order to boost American exports and grow the well-paid jobs Americans want and need," he said in a statement on arriving in Geneva.
The lack of movement in the Doha talks is also frustrating businesses. The EU lobby Euro Business is expected to issue a call during the conference for WTO members to speed up work on the deal.