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Global free trade talks tanking

Trade diplomats expressed pessimism about prospects for a new global free trade pact, after admitting that their negotiations in recent months have failed to break the impasse between rich and poor countries.


April 29, 2011
by CANADIAN PRESS

GENEVA: Trade diplomats expressed pessimism about prospects for a new global free trade pact April 29, after admitting that their negotiations in recent months have failed to break the impasse between rich and poor countries.

Fears are growing among members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) that the so-called Doha Round of commerce liberalization talks could now collapse with little to show for almost 10 years of haggling.

“We remain very committed to Doha, but at the same time we are collectively facing very hard choices,” said Michael Punke the US ambassador to the WTO, from Geneva. “We can’t fall into the trap of deciding through indecision.”

Diplomats are now scrambling to examine what Plan B might look like, with some suggesting that common ground on areas such as easing trade bureaucracy and lowering export tariffs for the poorest countries could form the basis of an agreement.

This would leave unfinished areas of major dispute including tariffs on manufactured goods, agricultural subsidies, market access and intellectual property rules.

The Doha Round was launched in Qatar’s capital in late 2001 and was meant to add billions of dollars to the global economy by spurring cross-border trade.

Officials expressed little optimism that a European Union proposal to resolve differences between Washington and major developing countries over industrial tariffs would work.
Instead, the idea of a political push to break the deadlock was again raised.

“The gaps that we face right now are political, they are not about process,” Punke said.
“Certainly over the weeks ahead there will be opportunities for ministers to speak directly to each other.”

Brazil, which like China and India has resisted US demands to lower taxes on imports of manufactured goods, said it was time to change the approach of the talks.

“We cannot bury our heads in the sand and keep working in the same mode we were before,” said Brazilian ambassador Roberto Azevedo.
© 2011 The Canadian Press