Top trade negotiators struck a rare note of harmony in their quest for a new global free-trade pact on Saturday, expressing encouragement after the latest development in talks that have divided rich and emerging economies.
Key players in the delicate negotiations hailed Saturday’s talks on measures for the services sector as a step forward after a breakthrough on the sticking points of farming and industry.
“Whether it was the developed countries or the developing countries’ participants, this conversation about services, the first really that the ministers have had together, was a good step forward, a positive step forward,” US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said.
India also sounded upbeat, despite earlier raising fears of the talks collapsing by signaling its opposition to a draft accord on the two other main areas of negotiation — farming and industry.
“The process of engagement is continuing, and this process will continue again tomorrow. So I’m optimistic,” Indian Commerce Trade Minister Kamal Nath said after almost five hours of meetings.
Ministers have been meeting at the WTO since Monday to discuss cuts in subsidies and import tariffs with the aim of mapping out a new deal under the so-called Doha Round of WTO talks.
The Doha Round was launched in the Qatari capital seven years ago, but has been deadlocked because of disputes between the rich developed world and poorer developing nations on trade in farm and industrial products.
The head negotiator for Brazil, Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, hailed their “good atmosphere” with “no recriminations.”
“Everybody there was speaking about services and trying to be as positive as ... one can be without any attempt to spoil the game,” he said.
The talks were heading for collapse until late on Friday when the big powers found common ground on the draft agreement proposed by WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy.
Discussions on the farming and industry aspects of the pact were to continue yesterday, but clouded by uncertainty over whether some countries would accept Friday’s “package” deal on these issues.
“We’re not very happy with the package, primarily on agricultural issues,” Indian Ambassador to the WTO Ujal Singh Bhatia said before the talks.
Nath has insisted all week that he would protect his country’s millions of subsistence farmers and nascent industry, which are shielded from imports by tariffs levied on foreign goods.
Argentina said on Saturday it feared that “without significant changes to [Lamy’s accord] ... it would be impossible to reach a positive outcome,” in a letter to Lamy released on Saturday.
Lamy said earlier that there were still sensitive subjects such as cotton subsidies in the rich world that needed to be addressed.
States were called to Saturday’s talks to indicate how far they would open markets in areas such as international telephone calls and the migration of workers, notably information technology consultants.
EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson offered a minimum of 80,000 temporary visas per year for foreign workers in the services sector, a diplomatic source said.
Schwab offered to broaden the number of US sectors open to foreign workers, following stricter US legislation after Sept. 11, 2001.
In return, Washington called for other countries to scrap limits on how much of a company’s capital can be held by foreigners, the source said.
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