Doha Round unlikely to end by December

Geneva, May 28 :

Struggling World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks on tearing down barriers to global commerce are unlikely to be completed by a year-end deadline, Switzerland’s top negotiator said today.

In an interview, Luzius Wasescha said that he did not expect the WTO’s Doha Round talks to end for ‘another two years’.

He pointed the finger at the United States, saying that Washington needed to put more on the table in farm trade talks to keep the overall negotiations on track — but was unlikely to do so.

“The US will not be in a position to make substantial concessions this year, short of a miracle,” he said. Last December, the 149 trading nations in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) launched a drive to try to conclude the Doha Round by the end of 2006 — two years later than originally planned.

The round, which was launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, aims to slash customs duties, subsidies and other trade barriers and use commerce to boost the economies of developing countries.

However, the talks have stumbled repeatedly, in part because of splits between rich and poor countries on the vexed issue of farm trade.

“The farm issue remains the hub of the talks”, said Wasescha.

Developing nations, led by Brazil and India, are pressing the European Union (EU) to offer deeper cuts in its agricultural customs duties that it has already put on the table, and are demanding that the US slash susbidies paid to its farmers.

Brussels and Washington, meanwhile, have repeatedly traded blame for the deadlock, with each urging the other to make more concessions.

They are also pushing developing countries to offer more open markets for trade in industrial goods and in services.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, is part of a bloc of countries also including Japan which are wary of opening their protected farm markets.

Such nations are aware that they will have to pay a high price in the farm trade talks, but want to see more business opportunities in other areas in exchange, said Wasescha.

Trade officials have repeatedly raised concerns about missing the December 2006 deadline.

The US administration is set in July 2007 to lose its special authority to negotiate trade deals, and re-empowered and potentially sceptical US lawmakers would be able to pick apart any World Trade Organisation (WTO)deal.

Under the global trade regime — World Trade Organisation (WTO) — rules, trade accords must be accepted by all members — let alone such key players as the United States — before negotiations can formally conclude.