NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A new global trade deal is still possible by the end of this year despite last month’s collapse of talks, the head of the World Trade Organization said on Tuesday, as he gauged India’s willingness to press on.
Talks ended in July after the United States and India refused to compromise over a proposed safeguard mechanism to enable developing countries to protect poor farmers by raising tariffs to counter a surge in subsidized imports.
Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath has already said the halt should be treated as a pause rather than a breakdown, and on Monday the world trade body’s farm mediator called for negotiations to resume soon.
“The good news is that there may be still a possibility to move this forward, and conclude these negotiations within the time frame which all the WTO members had agreed since last year, that is end-2008,” Director-General Pascal Lamy said.
Lamy is visiting Delhi this week and Washington next to get a sense of whether the talks can be resumed.
“I will leave Delhi tomorrow night with some sort of sense where sensitivities, where determination, where political will is and I will do the same exercise in Washington next week,” Lamy told a news conference.
Nath reiterated his opposition to any attempt to dilute the development content of the Doha round, and urged Lamy to convince the United States to understand New Delhi’s sensitivities.
“What position we had in Geneva we continue to have today. It’s not that in 15 days we have had any revision of our position,” Nath said at a news conference with Lamy.
“I have reiterated to Mr. Lamy that the concerns of livelihood farmers, concerns of our agricultural sector are prime and they have to find a solution.”
Ministers from about 30 WTO members met in Geneva at the end of July seeking a breakthrough in talks in agriculture and industrial goods, the core areas of the WTO’s Doha round to open up world trade, launched in late 2001.
But the United States said India’s demand for an easily triggered safeguard to protect poor farmers would allow developing countries to hike tariffs above currently bound levels in response to normal trade growth, rather than a sudden surge of imports.
The Geneva meeting also exposed differences among developing countries, with exporters such as Uruguay and Costa Rica concerned that they could lose markets in their vital South-South trade.
Brazil and Australia — both big food exporters — have since called on other WTO members not to abandon the negotiations.
Additional reporting by C. Jacob Kuncheria; Writing by Mark Williams; Editing by David Fox and Jerry Norton