January 29, 2011 / 11:04 AM / in 7 years

DAVOS-Trade ministers review Doha deal push

* 2011 seen as window of opportunity -- maybe the last

* Seven key players agreed to push for outline deal by July

By Jonathan Lynn

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Two dozen trade ministers met on Saturday to review progress on finishing the Doha round after seven major trading powers agreed to push for a deal in the decade-old talks by July.

The trade ministers’ lunch, a traditional fixture hosted by the Swiss government on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, is taking place as World Trade Organization members intensify efforts to finally clinch a deal.

Negotiators at WTO headquarters in Geneva, who have stepped up the pace of talks in recent weeks, have been waiting for ministers in Davos to give a clear signal that they should make the necessary concessions, compromises and trade-offs.

Seven key players agreed on Friday to do just that and push for an outline agreement by the summer.

“Everybody agrees we should try to do this for July,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told reporters late on Friday.

“We don’t have an agreement tonight -- you have an agreement when you have an agreement. But everybody has engaged to do this,” he said, speaking after the EU hosted a dinner for ministers from Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan and the United States.


Leaders of the G20 summit called in Seoul last year for a deal and said 2011 represented a window of opportunity, which many negotiators and economists believe could be the last.

The talks have staggered on since their launch in late 2001 to open world markets and help poor countries benefit from trade.

But officials say there is a new sense of hope this time.

Trade is moving up the agenda in the United States as President Barack Obama’s administration prepares to take free-trade pacts with South Korea and Colombia to Congress.

Washington is calling on the big emerging countries like China, India and Brazil to open their markets more to foreign -- including American -- businesses as a reflection of their growing economic clout.

The emerging economies argue that the deal is largely in place, based on the last intensive spate of negotiations in 2008, and if Washington wants more it must pay with further concessions of its own.

But behind the public posturing is a clear recognition that the final phase of talks will require give and take by everyone.

The question now is whether everyone can make the concessions that will allow their partners to sell a deal to their voters.

Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said everyone had domestic political concerns that needed to be respected, but countries should look at the benefit to the global economy of a new trade deal, not just their national concerns.

“You’ve got to be clear where your bottom line is and then you go into the negotiations with a give-give kind of attitude,” she told Reuters.

De Gucht said ministers would tell their officials they must do what it takes to negotiate a deal, leaving just a few key political issues for ministers to handle in the final stage.

July would not be a final agreement, but the broad outlines of a deal, such as formulas for cutting tariffs, and major exceptions to that, leaving the rest of the year for negotiators to fill in the details.

That would still make it possible to meet the G20 call, with the complete agreement wrapped up at the WTO’s ministerial conference in December. But the timetable would be tight.

For full coverage, blogs and TV from Davos go to www.reuters.com/davos (editing by Mike Peacock)

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