September 18, 2009 / 2:46 PM / 10 years ago

More meetings, no movement in intense Doha trade talks

GENEVA (Reuters) - A week of intensive discussions on advancing the Doha round to free up world trade has filled diaries with dates for more meetings but done little to change positions in the stalled talks, diplomats said on Friday.

When World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy briefs the WTO’s 153 members on Tuesday on his message to next week’s G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the mood is likely to be somber.

Many trade negotiators expect the G20 summit to renew calls to complete the now nearly eight-year-old Doha round in 2010, adding to political statements of support for the trade talks.

But the disconnect between the political appeals and what is actually going on in the negotiations, where there are few signs of flexibility, remains striking.

Lamy told a meeting of key negotiators that he would ask G20 leaders to reaffirm the 2010 deadline and but also to tell their officials to show flexibility to reach a deal.

He said negotiators had agreed a work program for the rest of the year, but he was under no illusions that there had been any breakthroughs on substance.

“We have the road, now we have to walk the road,” he said, according to a participant in the meeting.

Ambassadors in Geneva were joined this week by senior officials from state capitals after a meeting of key trade ministers in Delhi two weeks ago called for an intensification of the talks.

The senior officials will return in the week October 19-23, and again each month to try and close the remaining gaps, and negotiators will take stock in December.

Many negotiators in Geneva believe the United States — the key to any agreement — is either unable or unwilling to move.

There is little political support in the United States for new trade deals, and President Barack Obama’s administration has other more pressing priorities, from solving the financial crisis to delivering a package on healthcare.

The top U.S. trade official, Ron Kirk, dismissed on Thursday suggestions the domestic climate in the United States was not right for a Doha deal.

But among America’s trade partners, that suspicion will not go away.

“I would say there seems to be a consensus minus one about moving the whole thing,” said the WTO ambassador of one major developing country, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Right now we are waiting for something to happen in U.S. domestic politics otherwise we can’t do anything,” said a trade negotiator for a rich country.

BROKEN PLEDGE

Major trading powers are keen to avoid the blame for a complete collapse of the Doha talks, which would cut import tariffs and farm subsidies around the world and were intended particularly to help developing countries grow faster.

The effect — over several years — could be a multi-billion dollar stimulus to the world economy and an immediate boost to business confidence.

But those who could lose from freer trade — from labor unions in the United States to subsistence farmers in poor countries — have been stoking opposition.

The G20’s other pledge on trade — to refrain from protectionism that could exacerbate the crisis — is also looking wobbly, and not only because of the American host’s move last week to impose extra tariffs on cheap Chinese tires.

A detailed study by Global Trade Alert, a project by independent trade researchers, shows G20 members along with other countries are piling on measures to restrict trade.

“The full scale of the G20’s failure to keep its no-protectionist pledge is now apparent,” said Simon Evenett, professor of international trade at the University of St Gallen and one of the coordinators of the project.

“Conservatively estimated, 121 beggar-thy-neighbor measures have been implemented by G20 governments since last November. Every three days a G20 government has broken their no-protectionist pledge,” he said in a blog on the policy website VoxEU.org , detailing the latest findings.

(For the latest Global Trade Alert report on VoxEU.org go to:

link.reuters.com/mab57d )

Editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Myra MacDonald

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