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Mon, Dec 08, 2008 - Page 10 News List

WTO releases texts to form basis of ministerial talks

‘STEPPING STONE’The WTO director-general asked member states to prepare ministers for a meeting to try to conclude the long-stalled Doha free-trade pact

AFP , GENEVA

The WTO on Saturday published revised texts intended to form the basis of negotiations if a ministerial meeting is held in Geneva next week.

WTO’s Director-General Pascal Lamy had earlier asked member states to prepare ministers for a meeting in the middle of this month to try to conclude the long-stalled Doha global free-trade pact.

In a fax to all 153 member states of the trade bloc, Lamy said that if a ministerial meeting was called, it would begin some time between Saturday and next Monday.

With the publication of the new drafts, Lamy said he would be sampling the reaction of members.

“With these revised texts we are closer to our goal of clinging modalities in agriculture and industry, a stepping stone towards the conclusion of the Doha Round,” he said.

Lamy said differences remained amongst members and that while the “areas of discord are few in number, they involve politically sensitive issues.”

“However, the modalities step would send a signal that all WTO members stand united to face the challenges of the current economic crisis,” he said, urging member states to make “collective moves towards global solutions.”

The Doha round of talks, which started at the end of 2001 in the Qatar capital, aims to boost international commerce by removing trade barriers and subsidies but a deal has so far proved elusive as countries are reluctant to open up their markets or reduce financial support to farmers.

Key sticking points reflected in the revised text include a so-called sectoral initiative, which proposes specific industry sectors to be submitted to sharper tariff cuts than the overall general level of reductions.

Another problem is the special safeguard mechanism which affords developing countries a safety net by allowing them to implement a punitive tariff on certain products in the event that imports surge and threaten domestic producers.

Disagreements primarily between India and the US over this safeguard mechanism tripped up the last round of negotiations between ministers in July.

The latest texts were the fourth version proposed by the WTO trade negotiator on agriculture, Crawford Falconer, and his counterpart on industrial products, Luzius Wasescha, who took over from Don Stephenson.

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