Lamy, WTO members say Doha talks not fast enough

Tue Feb 22, 2011 8:52pm IST

* Concern long-running Doha talks will miss new deadline

* Progress, but not fast enough

By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Long-running talks on a global trade deal are at last making progress but the pace of work is nowhere near fast enough to meet a new self-imposed deadline of the end of the year, senior trade officials said on Tuesday.

World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy told the body's General Council that member states must speed up their efforts, and trade powers expressed concern that what many see as the last chance for a Doha round deal is slipping away.

WTO members are unlikely to declare formally that the decade-old talks are dead -- international negotiations don't work that way.

But the fear is that if a deal is not in sight by the end of 2011, campaigning for the 2012 U.S. election would make progress next year difficult, and picking up the threads later would also be hard.

WTO members are racing to clinch a deal which could boost the global economy by hundreds of billions of dollars and give a fillip to business sentiment after G20 leaders said there was an opportunity to conclude the talks in 2011. But the logic of the complex negotiations is that a deal must be agreed in outline by July and that in turn requires the chairs of the various WTO negotiating groups to come up with drafts of an agreement by late April.

Lamy told the council that members had agreed to make enough progress to give the diplomats chairing the negotiations an idea of the common ground that could underlie these texts.

"I must issue a serious warning that a major acceleration at all levels... is needed in order to make this possible," Lamy said, adding that members needed to step up work urgently to make real progress on key issues."The window of opportunity is still there, but it is narrowing every day," he said.

SLIPPING AWAY LIKE WATER The Doha talks were launched in late 2001 to open up global commerce and help poor countries prosper through trade.

After missing repeated deadlines, negotiators are at last starting to tackle key issues blocking a deal in trade in farm produce, manufactured goods and services.

Besides the negotiating groups covering all members, these talks are taking place informally at the bilateral level between leading players such as the United States and China, and among groups of major trading powers, like the 11 members that brought together senior officials last week.

Any deal this "G11" makes on stumbling blocks -- such as how to protect farmers in poor countries from destabilising floods of imports or how to cut duties in some industrial sectors beyond any general reduction in tariffs that is agreed -- would stand a good chance of finding support among all 153 WTO states.

But the chairs need time to run it past the other members to ensure it has their backing before setting it down in writing.

Fears remain that the G11 -- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Mauritius, South Africa and the United States -- could cook up a last-minute deal that would be forced on the rest.

A group of middle-sized states took the floor to say the process should be widened. They included Mexico, which proposed a compromise last month to break various deadlocks, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Turkey and Switzerland. [ID:nN04213153]

"We can see the Doha round slipping away, like water between our fingers," Colombian ambassador Eduardo Munoz said.

Munoz asked Lamy to warn trade ministers that the talks were lagging and ask them to instruct their negotiators to be more flexible, and suggested members should convene in a month to take stock of the state of the negotiations.

U.S. ambassador Michael Punke, who said last week the negotiations were at last moving, told the council he shares the frustrations and concerns of other members about the inadequate progress and said he supported Colombia's proposal. [ID:nLDE71G1VG] (For FACTBOX on major Doha sticking points see [ID:nLDE71L1VA]) (editing by David Stamp)

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