NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Key issues in the ongoing talks for a global trade deal have not been settled and it is too early to say whether the pact will be signed by the stated target of 2010, India’s chief negotiator in the Doha round said on Monday. Countries will have to agree on a formula for the deal by June 2010 at the latest in order to be in a position to sign an agreement by the end of the year, D.K. Mittal told Reuters. They are due to assess the progress of the talks again in March.
The Doha talks have proceeded at an erratic pace since their inception in 2001, though India and other nations have touted a successful conclusion as a significant boost to the global economy after the downturn, and a way to stave off protectionism.
“There has been progress on certain issues, that’s undeniable. But the core issues still remain unresolved,” Mittal said.
“In the next two months, what happens one can’t predict. But if all the sides are in a negotiating mood ... then I think we can have a good stocktaking.”
One sticking point is a demand from the United States for developing countries such as India and China to abolish tariffs entirely in some industrial sectors. Such cuts are voluntary in the Doha negotiations.
The U.S. has said it cannot agree to a Doha deal unless big emerging economies do more to open their markets.
“The demand for sectorals coming from the U.S., that’s an issue,” Mittal said. “No country is willing to accept that, including India,” he said, adding, “nobody is willing to give more to any country at this stage.”
Estimates of the value of a Doha deal, which would be phased over several years, vary. Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics, says it could raise world GDP by $300-700 billion a year.
Mittal said countries were also gearing up for a “heart-to-heart discussion” on the technicalities of a safeguard mechanism to protect farmers in developing countries from a surge of imports — a key issue over which the talks faltered in 2008.
“There is already a framework there, it’s just a question of fine-tuning it,” he said.
“Different kinds of protection are being suggested by the developed countries, by those who want market access. Now it’s a question of assessing them, whether they are really genuine.”
Many WTO members have blamed the slow progress in the Doha talks, which leaders aim to complete in 2010, on a lack of interest from Washington at a time when the Obama administration is grappling with issues such as the financial crisis.
But Mittal said that while Washington still needs to appoint key negotiators, the “U.S. has been very active in engagement ... in terms of talking, in terms of sending the delegations and all that.”
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)