‘No breakthrough at trade talks’

London, March 12:

Six global trading powers achieved a degree of progress in weekend talks in London, but a breakthrough deal to help poor nations trade their way out of poverty remained elusive.

“There was no major breakthrough although we made progress in a number of areas,” said EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson. Mandelson and his counterparts from Australia, Brazil, India, Japan and the US — all key players in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) — huddled for two days in the British capital, hoping to break a deadlock over the stalled Doha round of WTO negotiations.

“We had a good meeting so far, testing both the possibilities and the limitations of these negotiations,” Mandelson said, describing the meeting as ‘constructive’. An initiative by the US and Canada, which provides a numerical simulation of the effect tariff cuts would have on imports and exports in 10 main WTO members was explored for the first time at the meeting.

“We’ve had a very helpful discussion because we had numbers,” said US trade representative Rob Portman, referring to the initiative.

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said member states were not yet ready to move forward collectively, but he appeared upbeat about concluding the round by the end of the year. “It’s more likely that we will be able to do it,” Amorim said.

The WTO, however, has a poor track record for meeting its self-imposed deadlines. In a sign of tough negotiations ahead, Amorim warned, “If we don’t have an ambitious result, we won’t have a result at all.” International aid agency Oxfam voiced frustration at what it saw as the failure of rich countries to offer any meaningful reform in agriculture at the London talks. “The EU and the US are acting like used car salesmen. You don’t need to look under the bonnet of their proposals to know there’s something dodgy about them,” said Oxfam spokeswoman Liz Stuart.

The meeting marked an attempt to narrow differences over the contentious topic of tariffs on agricultural products and industrial goods, ahead of a deadline of April 30 for a settlement of those issues. Trade officials hope that will allow adequate time to sew together the complex details of a wider-ranging trade deal by the end of 2006.

Consensus between the so-called Group of Six (G6) in London would give fresh impetus to the Doha round of WTO negotiations, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001 with the aim of boosting development in the world’s poorest nations. Agreement between the G6 is seen as essential if the 143 other WTO members are to follow.