WTO bid to nail Doha deal on choppy seas

Geneva, July 21:

Tensions rose a day ahead of a meeting of trade ministers from more than 30 countries to try to nail down a global trade accord before the arrival of a new US president early next year.

After nearly seven years of fruitless haggling, ministers will try to bridge gaps on trade-opening measures under the Doha Development Agenda, launched with great fanfare and hope in the Qatari capital in 2001.

The already difficult situation was not helped when a Brazilian minister’s reference to the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels sparked a row with Washington’s representative.

Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, made the comment at a news conference on Saturday in response to claims by industrialised countries that they had offered concessions on agricultural tariffs. He said he was reminded of Goebbels’ declaration that “If a lie is repeated enough times, it becomes the truth.”

That prompted a sharp response from the office of US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, herself the daughter of Holocaust survivors. “At a time when we try to find a successful outcome to the negotiations, this kind of statement is highly unfortunate,” her spokesman Sean Spicer said.

Amorim’s press office said he had “no intention of apologising.” His intention had not been to make comparisons between individuals, but “to show that propaganda can be superimposed on historical facts.”

Germany’s Economy Minister Michael Glos set out his stall in an editorial to appear in Monday’s edition of the Financial Times Deutscheland. In it, he made it clear that there will have to be concessions on both sides. “Major emerging countries like Brazil, India and China do not have the right to entrench their positions in the name of developing countries,” wrote Glos. “To my mind, it is indispensable that the major emerging (markets) assume their responsibilities in the global trade system. They too must guarantee real improvements in access to (their) markets,” he stated.

In a statement issued from Brussels, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso sent a similar message on Sunday. “For those negotiations to succeed, other developed countries and emerging economies in WTO also have to make a major contribution. The overall result has to be balanced and ambitious.”

Irish Trade Minister John McGuinness has also said the European Commission has offered too much, getting little in return. He has not ruled out an Irish veto if the deal does not suit Dublin.

Developing countries have been pressing for lower farm subsidies and agricultural tariffs in the developed world. Industrialised states are demanding in return that developing countries make their markets more accessible to imported services and manufactured goods.

The man with the job of squaring the circle next week will be WTO Director General Pascal Lamy of France. He has argued that a Doha deal could inject between $50 and $100 billion each year to the world economy and be of enormous benefit to poor countries.

For the summit to be a success, the WTO’s 152 members will have to agree on “modalities” -- the key percentages for tariff cuts that would form the basis for any comprehensive deal.

The Geneva talks, under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation, have added urgency. The US will have a new administration and new Congress next year. But no one knows what Washington’s policy will be.