Wto trade talks: Success of trade talks depends on EU

Beijing, November 14:

Next month’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade liberalisation talks in Hong Kong are a “once in a generation opportunity,” US trade representative Rob Portman said today as he placed the onus on Europe for a breakthrough. “This is a once in a generation opportunity,” said Portman, who is visiting China for a China-US relations forum, “And if we allow this to go by, we miss an opportunity.” Developed countries’ high agriculture tariffs and subsidies, aimed

at protecting domestic farmers, are the key point of contention holding up an agreement among WTO members to free up trade, Portman said. To make the December 13-18 WTO Hong Kong meeting a success, the European Union must adequately reduce agriculture tariffs and quotas, Portman said, blaming EU unwillingness to do for “blocking the talks.” Developing countries, which have a comparative advantage in agriculture, will not likely sign onto a trade liberalisation agreement unless rich countries reduce their protection of agriculture sectors, said Portman.

“So we’ve got to get the tariffs down and the EU is frankly not willing to provide meaningful market access by reducing tariffs and quotas,” he said, “That means that the rest of the world is being asked to live with a formula that doesn’t reduce tariffs and quotas adequately.” Without an agreement in agriculture, it will be difficult to get developing countries to agree

to other issues, such as market opening, including cutting industrial tariffs and dropping barriers on trade in services. “I’m concerned right now that unless we can break this deadlock on agriculture, it will be hard to make progress on all the other issues,” Portman said.

“Unless the Hong Kong meeting is successful, we won’t be able to help the developing world,” he said. However, a report states that Japan will formally extend its support for Russia joining the WTO when Russian president Vladimir Putin visits Tokyo next week. The two governments effectively reached an agreement in April for the world’s second largest economy to back Russia’s membership bid.

‘Doha Round is stuck’

PARIS: The Doha Round of WTO negotiations is stuck in neutral gear, Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim said on Monday, urging the EU to make new proposals on agriculture. Amorim said, “I fear that the round is in neutral gear. If Europeans cannot put an extra offer on the table regarding agriculture, then the cycle might have to be put in slow gear for resumption after a December ministerial conference in Hong Kong.” — AFP

The blame game

PARIS: Next month’s WTO talks in Hong Kong were headed for failure chiefly because of the

intransigence of the US and Brazil, Europe’s top official

said. “I’m not very optimistic about Hong Kong,” European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said. Europe had put forward proposals that were a ‘very important step’ and it was up to countries such as the US and Brazil to make concessions, he said. — AFP

Mission possible

LONDON: A final agreement in global trade talks is possible, WTO chief Pascal Lamy said in an interview with the British newspaper Independent published on Monday. “It’s not mission impossible,” Lamy said. “Everybody will have to move,” he added, while admitting that current “positions are too different” to allow for an agreement soon. Ruling out an accord among WTO member states when they gather in Hong Kong next month, Lamy said, “it is better to stage Hong Kong as a step forward rather than a big, make-or-break, brinkmanship aim.” — AFP