Australia to host trade talks

Sydney, September 17 :

Major trading powers will meet in the Australian resort town of Cairns this week in a last-ditch bid to kickstart stalled World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations.

The meeting was initially called to mark the 20th anniversary of the Cairns Group, the 18-nation grou-ping of agricultural exporters formed in the tou-rist town alongside the Gre-at Barrier Reef in 1986. But after WTO talks were suspe-nded in late July, Australia’s trade minister Mark Vaile expanded the meeting to include US, EU and WTO representatives in the hope of reviving the negotiations.

Vaile said the Cairns talks would be the last chance to save the Doha Round of negotiations, which was supposed to deliver a deal to dismantle world agricultural and industrial trade barriers by the end of 2004, but dragged on until it was suspended with no conclusion. “The round’s not dead, but it really is only hanging by a thread — the window is almost closed,” Vaile said. WTO chief Pascal Lamy, US trade representative Susan Schwab and US agriculture secretary Mike Johanns will all attend the Cairns meeting. EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson will not, although the EU’s Australian ambassador will be there.

However, the initial hopes for a major advance in Cairns have faded, with even the WTO playing down the prospect in the lead-up to the meeting. WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell indicated the meeting was a opportunity to make incremental progress on negotiation points, rather than a chance for a dramatic catalyst that would immediately resolve the Doha Round after five years of talks.

“We don’t expect this meeting to lead to a breakthrough, but it’s important to keep pressure on members and the process to restart negotiations,” he said, adding that Lamy had been “rather stimulated” by the recent meeting of the G20 in Rio de Janeiro which he attended.