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Key Trading Nations Agree to Resume Talks

Trade ministers cautiously agreed Saturday to resume world trade negotiations that have been stalled for months. Reporting for VOA from Paris, Lisa Bryant has more on an issue that dominated the last day of the annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Ministers from some 30 countries offered few details about how they plan to unblock the so-called Doha Round of world trade talks, which have been frozen since last summer.

But a short statement issued by the Swiss Economics Ministry, which organized the informal ministerial meeting Saturday, said the group wanted a quick resumption of 'full-scale activity' in the trade talks.

The meeting took place on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, an annual meeting gathering some of the globe's most powerful politicians and business leaders at the Swiss resort of Davos. During a special panel on the stalled talks, World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy sounded cautiously optimistic.

"I remain of the view that it is doable," he said.  "What we got this morning is the message that the momentum was there, that we are switching, or that we have to be prepared to switch from this flying mode above the landing zone, which we have been doing for some time, to the sort of switching to the approach mode."

Even if political will to resume trade negotiations is there, and many leaders say it is, major sticking points remain. Key among them are disagreements between the EU, the U.S. and developing nations over slashing agricultural tariffs, which developing nations say put their farmers at a disadvantage and protect farmers in wealthier nations.

Elections in France later this year may also break the momentum to strike a deal. Meanwhile, special congressional 'fast-track' authority in the U.S. to approve a trade deal expires at the end of June.

Still, a number of leaders remain optimistic, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Speaking at Davos Friday, Blair said a new trade deal could particularly benefit developing countries.

"There is really no substantive reason why we can't get a deal done, that this would be enormous in development terms," said Mr. Blair.  "An aid-for trade package would be enormously beneficial for countries in Africa, and, actually, for the rest of the world."

Lamy of the WTO has not said when he will officially announce the official restarting of trade negotiations. But, he acknowledged, the window of opportunity is a narrow one.

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