(Reuters) - Ministers from around 30 countries are meeting in Geneva to seek a breakthrough in negotiations on new global free trade treaty, known as the Doha round.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) talks were launched in the Qatari capital 2001 with the aim of bolstering the global economy by boosting trade and helping poor nations export more.
The ministers meeting this week are not seeking to clinch a final Doha round agreement, but are striving for the outlines of a deal that trade diplomats would then flesh out.
But basic accord on some of the talks’ most sensitive issues would be a decisive step forward for the WTO free trade push.
Here are the main results to watch out for:
Ministers are seeking “modalities” -- or the parameters of an agreement -- in talks over reducing barriers to trade in agricultural and industrial goods.
This would include the formulas for cutting tariffs and subsidies on goods like cotton, rice, shoes, and cars, and designations of what products can be shielded from cuts. Those exceptions are especially important for developing countries.
Diplomats have agreed on the shape or “architecture” of the formulas. Ministers are discussing the numbers to go into them.
Agreement in the core areas of farming and manufactured goods would open the door for deals in other parts of the Doha round, including cross-border services and rules on how to treat unfairly-priced imports.
Once the formulas for agriculture and industry are agreed, officials will have to calculate their impact on thousands of different products or “tariff lines.” This detailed, painstaking process, which would take months, is known as scheduling.
Only when those calculations are complete -- and the WTO’s 153 members can see what their partners’ future import duties will look like -- will it be possible to sign off on a deal.
So agreement among ministers on when that scheduling should be finished would set an important milestone for the Doha round, and give negotiators in services a clear target to aim for.
Services make up 70 percent or more of rich countries’ economies and a growing share of developing country output.
Many WTO members are keenly interested to see cross-border banking and telecoms opened up under a Doha deal, despite its main focus on farming and industrial markets.
Interested countries will hold a “signaling conference” this week to express their intentions on liberalizing services, without going into details or making firm commitments. No one has tabled new offers in services since late 2005.
One outcome of that conference may be agreement on a new deadline for revised offers on opening up the sector.