Trade ministers from over 35 countries have agreed to resume high level
negotiations later this month to break a deadlock that has jeopardized
efforts to clinch a global trade pact. The U.S. trade representative
says the global economic crisis has made it imperative to move ahead
with a new trade deal.
The chief negotiators of World Trade Organization members will meet in Geneva starting September 14 to grapple with issues that brought about the collapse of global trade talks last year.
The agreement to resume high level talks on what is called the "Doha Round" came in New Delhi Friday following a two-day "informal meeting" of trade ministers from over 35 key countries.
Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma called it a "breakthrough," and said there was a unanimous affirmation of the need to clinch a new trade deal.
"There has been a breakthrough in this meeting. If I can use this expression, the impasse in resuming the negotiations has been broken," he said.
India hosted the meet in a bid to revive the stalled trade talks.
The main issues holding up the trade pact are worries by developing countries that liberalized trade could adversely impact the livelihood of millions of poor farmers, who may not be able to compete with cheap food imports from developed countries. Proposals to eliminate tariffs entirely on some industrial goods are also a contentious issue.
The Indian trade minister expressed optimism that a deal will be struck by next year.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who attended the New Delhi meeting, however warned that "hard work" remains to be done because WTO members have not yet found common ground. He says "substance and content" will drive the process - not setting a deadline.
Kirk called on big developing countries like India and China, whose economies are growing rapidly, to do more to open their markets to free trade.
"All of us, but particularly those countries, that have the ability to make a contribution to the world's economy, including the advanced developing economies of India, Brazil, China and South Africa have I think an added responsibility to make the tough decisions in order to bring Doha to a successful conclusion," he said.
The U.S. trade representative says the global economic crisis should push countries to conclude a new trade deal, which could help to pull the world out of a recession.
But a huge rally by thousands of farmers in New Delhi on Thursday calling on the government to "ditch Doha" symbolized the political problems that may lie ahead for developing countries in striking a deal.
The Doha talks began in 2001 with the aim of liberalizing trade, and lifting millions of people out of poverty by giving a boost to global commerce.