GENEVA Leaders of the G20 rich and emerging economies called on Friday for intensified efforts to complete the long-running Doha round of global trade talks, saying next year offers a narrow window of opportunity.
The endorsement by the G20 summit of 2011 as a target date, even if not an explicit one, marks an optimistic return to the practice of summits setting deadlines for the Doha talks, launched nine years ago this Sunday.
Each one has been missed, starting with the original target of January 1, 2005. But this time may be different.
There is a growing sense of optimism at the World Trade Organization in Geneva -- after several months of brainstorming among small groups of ambassadors -- that the negotiations could be ready for a final push.
What the negotiators had been waiting for was a political signal from the leaders in Seoul.
In a statement released after a two-day summit, the G20 leaders welcomed what they called the "broader and more substantive" engagement of the past four months among negotiators in Geneva.
"Bearing in mind that 2011 is a critical window of opportunity, albeit narrow, this engagement must intensify and expand. We now need to complete the end game," the G20 said.
World leaders have been issuing such exhortations for several years.
But this time U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders were forthright in their support for a deal, a senior trade source said.
Obama told other leaders at a lunchtime discussion on trade that he would take a deal to Congress and fight for it, once the right deal was on the table, the source said.
"What I get from this summit is political energy and a sense that next year is the year when we have to try and wrap it up," said the source, who took part in summit meetings in Seoul.
The talks were launched in late 2001 to free up global commerce and help poor countries prosper through trade.
The likely deal would see rich countries cut their trade distorting agricultural subsidies and open their protected farm markets, while emerging economies would open up their fledgling industries to more international competition. The poorest countries would not have to make any concessions.
But the talks have been stuck for two years on a U.S. demand that emerging economies -- where most future growth is likely -- should create more opportunities for foreign businesses. The emerging countries say they have already done enough in what is supposed to be a negotiation to help developing countries.
Obama's reassurance that he will fight for the right deal is important because over the past two years many countries have argued that a virtual deadlock in the talks was due to a lack of interest on the part of the United States.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke up at the lunch for a Doha deal to bolster the world economy, and in other sessions outgoing Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Chinese President Hu Jintao also called for progress, the senior trade source said.
EU trade chief Karel De Gucht is thinking of convening a meeting of key trade ministers in the coming months to move the talks forward, other sources said.
But Seoul also saw calls for the launch of several new bilateral or regional trade agreements and a promise by the United States and South Korea to try and conclude their trade pact that they had hoped to agree by the summit.
That suggests many countries are hedging their bets over Doha.
"My worry would be that bilateral agreements suck so much energy out of the negotiating teams that there's no energy left for the multilateral talks," the trade source said.
(Additional reporting by Alan Wheatley in Seoul; editing by Noah Barkin)