GENEVA The long-running Doha trade talks have finally started to move after a constructive week of talks among key powers that grappled with issues of substance, the U.S. envoy to the World Trade Organization said on Thursday.
The comments, by U.S. ambassador Michael Punke, were one of the strongest signs yet that an intensified push to conclude the decade-old negotiations this year were finally bearing fruit.
"My sense is that we're finally starting to do the things we need to do, which is grapple with the really hard issues," Punke told Reuters after a week of meetings among 11 major WTO members including the United States.
"We're in a mode right now where we're talking about substance."
Negotiators have been meeting over the past few weeks since trade ministers called last month in Davos for an outline deal by the middle of July, and said they would tell negotiators to do what it takes to reach necessary compromises.
The meetings this week of the 11 economies known as G11 -- Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, Mauritius, South Africa and the United States -- are part of those intensified efforts.
Punke said the United States had held bilateral meetings with every other member of the group. Whether the renewed push would actually produce a deal was uncertain but everyone was committed to intensifying the talks and pushing on.
But the diplomat chairing negotiations on the crucial agriculture sector said two weeks of consultations and meetings had generated little new.
"We are losing one day every day," New Zealand ambassador David Walker told a meeting of the WTO's 153 members, reminding them that the April 21 deadline for a new draft negotiating text was fast approaching.
Walker said he was aware some countries were working among themselves on solutions to some of the more contentious issues.
Brazil floated a proposal at the G11 talks for groups of countries to agree to eliminate duties in some agricultural sectors, beyond any general cuts in tariffs agreed by all members -- the mirror image of a proposal in industrial goods backed by the United States, Japan and the EU but which emerging countries are suspicious of.
The idea found little support, diplomats said, and some questioned whether it was a delaying tactic as the appreciation of the real has made Brazil uneasy about opening its market for industrial goods any further under a deal.
The Doha talks were launched in late 2001 to open up global commerce and help poor countries prosper through trade. But they became deadlocked after a push in July 2008 to reach a deal foundered over disagreement on measures to protect farmers in poor countries from destabilising floods of imports and the plan to eliminate duties in some industrial sectors.
The United States -- the key to any deal -- has long argued that major powers, especially the big emerging economies like Brazil, China and India, need to move beyond declared positions and get involved in real negotiations of give and take to give the talks a chance of succeeding.
Former top WTO official Stuart Harbinson said negotiators now appeared to have got the message from leaders.
"I've not seen this level of activities in terms of the number and frequency of the meetings before. The pressure is certainly being put on the negotiators to deliver," he told a briefing in Washington.
(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington)