Asian countries expressed disappointment at the collapse of global trade liberalization talks, but insisted yesterday that a breakthrough remained possible, even if it took another five years.
There was agreement across the region that Monday's breakdown in talks between six key players of the 149-member WTO should not jeopardize gains made since the round of negotiations opened in late 2001.
Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath said that the latest setback in Geneva meant the Doha Round, which aims to remove agricultural and industrial trade barriers, was "in a complete state of suspension."
"The round is not dead -- but it's definitely between intensive care and the crematorium," he said as WTO director-general Pascal Lamy announced that the talks would be suspended indefinitely.
"The only course of action I can recommend is to suspend the negotiations across the round as a whole, to enable a serious reflection by participants which is clearly necessary," Lamy said.
Australia, one of the world's most aggressive free trade supporters, said the global community now had to reassess the timeframe in which progress could be achieved.
"The round is not dead, but it's hanging by a thread," Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile said.
"What it does mean is that it could put us on the merry-go-round for five years before we might get something," he added.
WTO negotiations have a history of halting progress and Japanese Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa attempted to strike an upbeat note after the failure in Geneva of talks between the G6 group members -- the US, the EU, Japan, Australia, Brazil and India.
"Optimistically speaking, we're stopping on the way to regain the momentum," he said.
New Zealand Trade Minister Phil Goff said the suspension of the Doha talks was a lost opportunity which particularly hurt developing countries.
Goff said the G6 had blown the chance to create "a fairer, more prosperous and stable world.
"The developing world needs major cuts in the subsidies and export incentives that wealthy countries pay to their producers for there to be a level playing field," he said.
"And they need cuts in tariff barriers which block access to markets in the developed world and also other developing countries."
Vaile echoed that sentiment, saying: "The real price to be paid is by the least developed counties who are going to get nothing out of this."
However, there was disagreement about the reasons the talks failed.
India pointed the finger at the US, saying Washington had not matched the flexibility shown by other WTO nations, including the EU, on farm trade.
"It's very clear that everyone made a movement," Nath said. "Everyone put something on the table except for one country [the US], who said: `we can't see anything on the table.'"
Goff said all needed to shoulder some of the blame.
"Within the G6, the US needs to offer bigger cuts in domestic subsidies, the EU, Japan and India need to put forward better offers on agricultural market access, and the large developing countries, Brazil and India, need to offer larger cuts in non-agricultural tariffs."
Vaile said the failure of multilateral trade talks would result in more countries striking bilateral trade agreements for want of a better deal.
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