Did WTO's failed Doha round try to do too much?

GENEVA Wed Jul 30, 2008 3:47pm EDT

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GENEVA (Reuters) - The collapse of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks has raised divisions of opinion about whether the Doha round push was simply trying to tackle too much at once.

Some negotiators suggested a series of smaller accords may be salvaged from the wreckage of Doha, which was designed to pry open global markets for agricultural and manufactured goods as well as cross-border services.

But others insisted that the all-in-one package approach was essential to satisfy everybody's needs.

"I suspect that there has never in history been an international negotiation as complex as this one," U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told a news conference on Wednesday, the day after the talks broke down in Geneva.

She said certain areas of the wide-ranging Doha talks seemed ripe for agreement, even though the WTO's 153 members have failed to reach consensus on the overall package which would slash barriers to trade in food, cars, textiles, and phones.

"Why should it have to come together at exactly the same time?," Schwab asked.

Side deals to boost trade in environmental goods, to revamp export competition rules and to give poor countries duty-free and quota-free advantages could be spun from the nearly seven-year-old Doha drive, the top U.S. negotiator said.

"There are ways of moving forward, certainly, with pieces of this. If we are going to say 'nothing is done until everything is done' then it's going to take longer," she said.

WTO "NOT A BUFFET"

Trade ministers failed in a marathon nine-day session to agree to trade-offs that would make a Doha deal palatable to leading economies, with India and the United States unable to resolve their differences over barriers to farm markets.

Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath insisted on Wednesday that the Doha round must maintain its "all or nothing" approach in order for poorer countries to get the best possible deal when talks eventually resume.

"The single undertaking has to be there," he said. "The WTO is not a buffet where you pick up what you want and go."

Kenya's deputy prime minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, agreed it could be dangerous to carve up the negotiations into separate areas that could leave some countries out of the picture.

"We cannot separate the issues," he told a news conference. "Everything has to come in one package in order to satisfy the needs of all members."

WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has likened the pursuit of a Doha deal to building a Gothic cathedral where certain issues -- such as cuts to export-pinching subsidies and tariffs -- form the main pillars upon which other topics can be addressed.

Schwab referred to that analogy to say that the architecture of the Doha talks may have caused their breakdown.

"It may be that ... the complexity of the cathedral that was built for the Doha round was its own worst enemy, was its source of demise," she said.

(Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Robert Hart)

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