By Rajesh Mahapatra
Top trade officials from the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India were making progress as they began talks today to revive treaty negotiations to liberalize global commerce, Brazil’s trade and foreign minister said.
The Doha round of talks at the World Trade Organization, named after the capital of Qatar where negotiations began in 2001, have been stalled since last July over rich nations’ refusal to significantly cut farm subsidies and by the reluctance of developing nations to grant greater access to their markets.
The two-day meetings between top trade representatives of the four major power brokers within the WTO — the so-called G-4 — are their first formal dialogue since they failed to resolve differences and suspended negotiations in July last year.
Officials have since met several times informally either on the sidelines of international conferences or through bilateral forums.
Participants held closed-door bilateral meetings today before a formal dialogue Thursday, when Japan and Australia are expected to join the negotiations.
“Differences are slowly narrowing down,” Brazilian Trade and Foreign Minister Celso Amorin said after talks with European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.
Amorin said he expects the group to discuss a timeline to complete the deal which has already missed the initial deadline of December last year.
“It is important that the deal is struck. That we keep in mind it is urgent and we try to resolve the problem,” Amorin said.
Mandelson told reporters that he was going into the talks with a positive and flexible approach, but declined to predict any possible outcome.
“(We are) always positive … always showing flexibility and I would do my best to sustain that position on behalf of the EU,” he said ahead of his meeting with United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab.
The participants are expected to seek an agreement on key issues such as agricultural subsidies and tariffs, measures to enhance exports from so-called least-developed countries and concessions for poorer nations wanting to protect some of their domestic industries.
Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said the discussions will help efforts by WTO chief Pascal Lamy and trade diplomats in Geneva to hammer out a new trade accord and further liberalize global commerce.
“From these meetings, inputs will go to chairpersons of various negotiating groups (within WTO) and add momentum to the Geneva process,” Nath said.
Last week, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said U.S. President George W. Bush told him during a meeting that a WTO deal could come within 30 days.
Most trade analysts, however, remain skeptical about any major outcome at the talks in New Delhi.
“The scene is quite dismal. There seems to be very little meeting ground on some of the major issues,” said Pradeep Mehta, head of CUTS International, an Indian trade research group.
Also, there has been growing resentment among other members, who feel that the negotiations are being hijacked by rich countries and emerging powers such as India and Brazil. Some of them have threatened to veto any deal, if it lacks transparency and doesn’t address their concerns.
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