Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 11 News List

Davos talks focus on reanimating Doha

BUSINESS SUMMIT Failure to complete the WTO's Doha round of trade talks would have grave consequences for the global economy, delegates to the forum warned

AFP , DAVOS, SWITZERLAND

Trade ministers from 23 countries and the EU met on the final day of the Davos forum yesterday in a bid to breathe fresh life into stalled global trade negotiations.

The fate of the Doha round of WTO talks, suspended last July, has been a key talking point at the four-day annual gathering of business and political leaders in the Swiss ski resort.

Predictions about the outcome of the ministerial meeting here have varied widely, although there has been a solid consensus on the grave consequences for the global economy if the entire Doha round is allowed to collapse.

"I think it's a very, very big risk and I would call for the success of these negotiations as part of an overall picture for a better world," European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet said ahead of yesterday's huddle.

During a debate about Africa on Friday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believed there was "every chance" that the talks would get underway again.

Along with pop star and activist Bono, Blair stressed that the Doha round was a vital part of development efforts, given its aim of allowing developing countries to trade their way out of poverty.

The Doha round was suspended by WTO director-general Pascal Lamy following five years of acrimonious meetings pitting the EU, the US and developing countries against each other.

Even if Lamy were to decide to restart formal negotiations yesterday, any final agreement would require political approval and would likely face opposition in the current climate.

In the US, the White House is set to lose its special trade negotiating powers at the end of June, placing pressure for a WTO agreement beforehand.

If the newly Democrat-dominated US Congress decides not to renew the presidential "fast-track" trade powers, then any deal struck by negotiators afterwards risks being picked apart by US lawmakers.

In the EU, the French government in particular has insisted there should be no new offer to reduce tariffs on farm products which protect the EU market from imports.

European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told the Financial Times on Wednesday that he saw a breakthrough in the next month, but his US counterpart, Trade Representative Susan Schwab, has been more circumspect.

The Doha round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, aims to tear down trade barriers by reducing subsidies and tariffs, but negotiators have been unable to agree on the size of the cuts.

This year's World Economic Forum in Davos has featured the usual mix of debate and networking as politicians and the world's most highly paid corporate executives mingled in the Alps.

For its critics, Davos is likely to remain an exclusive winter retreat for corporate bigwigs who make fine public pronouncements about problems of poverty and social suffering which they are accused of exacerbating.

But Blair, Bono and Microsoft owner Bill Gates succeeded in putting Africa on top of the agenda on Friday, with Blair calling on industrialized nations to "redouble" their development efforts in the continent.

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