* Concern long-running Doha talks will miss new deadline
* Progress, but not fast enough
By Jonathan Lynn
GENEVA, Feb 22 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
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.
(For FACTBOX on major Doha sticking points see [ID:nLDE71L1VA])
(editing by David Stamp)