WTO talks at make or break point

Geneva, July 25:

Crucial World Trade Organisation talks entered make-or-break mode today as negotiators struggled to avert the collapse of the seven-year attempt to broker a global free-trade pact.

Beginning a fifth and planned final day of meetings, diplomats and negotiators admitted that little progress has been made so far but hoped talks in the hours ahead could yet yield a breakthrough.

After four days of negotiations, the gulf between rich and poor, developed and developing countries appears too far to bridge over the crunch issue — cutting tariffs and subsidies on trade in industrial and agricultural goods.

Late yesterday, Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said ministers would press ahead but cited today’s talks as a critical deadline. “Tomorrow we will know if a deal is possible or not.”

WTO head Pascal Lamy called the meeting here of ministers from about 35 leading economies

to map out a deal to conclude the long-delayed Doha Round of global trade talks.

The Doha Round began seven years ago with the aim of helping poor countries enjoy the fruits of freer global trade but the process has been delayed by disputes between the rich developed world and poorer developing nations.

Any final deal, if approved by negotiators here, would still need to be cleared by all 153 WTO member states. US trade representative Susan Schwab saw today’s session as decisive.

On Tuesday, Washington offered to cut $2 billion from its annual aid for farmers to leave it at $15 billion — a move greeted by India as welcome but still inadequate. The US and EU have asked key emerging economies to give ground on allowing greater access for developed countries’ industrial goods in their markets.