Wed, Jul 16, 2003 - Page 10 News List

WTO chief worried about trade talks

REUTERS , GENEVA

The head of the WTO said on Monday that negotiations on a new global trade pact were bogged down and appealed to squabbling governments to begin searching in earnest for compromises.

The Doha Round negotiations are heading for what could be a make-or-break conference in September. The talks are due to produce agreement on trade liberalization by Jan. 1, 2005, but several major deadlines have already been missed.

WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi's remarks reflected growing frustration over the squabbling between different groups of countries that has held up agreement on issues ranging from agriculture and tariffs to cheap medicines and service markets.

"The time has come for delegations to start seriously communicating with each other and searching for compromise solutions to their substantive problems," Supachai said at a meeting of the WTO's Trade Negotiations Committee, steering body for the Doha Round.

Despite some progress, "overall we do not yet have a real negotiation," he said.

Supachai told representatives on the committee from the WTO's 146 countries "to seek the sort of instructions [from their governments] that will enable you to enter seriously into one."

At the September meeting, trade ministers are supposed to adopt outline agreements -- all due to have been completed by now -- and steer the talks into a final 15 months to wrap up the details.

But with little ready for the ministers to take up, diplomats say, it seems increasingly likely that the round, launched at the end of 2001, will have to be extended -- some say by two to three years.

On the key issue of agriculture, which almost all countries agree is central to an overall accord, positions remain wide apart.

Supachai said he would prepare an outline text for the ministers himself to try to avoid a repetition of the Seattle debacle in 1999.

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