WTO Ministerial Looking More Unlikely

Everything I am hearing out of Geneva and around the world is casting increasing doubt over whether WTO Director-General Lamy will be calling a Ministerial meeting together.  Lamy doesn’t want to risk another meeting that might be seen to be a failure so is being cautious.  This report from Reuters is a good summary of what is going on

GENEVA (Reuters) – World Trade Organisation Director-General Pascal Lamy is in intensive talks with major trading powers to seek a breakthrough in the WTO’s seven-year-old Doha round, officials said on Wednesday.

“He’s been in touch with numerous ministers from major players trying to find a common way forward,” WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said.

However, Geneva sources said they heard the talks were proving difficult.

Lamy is in touch with ministers from the United States, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries to see whether it is worth holding a meeting on Doha, launched in the Qatari capital in late 2001 to free up world trade.

Last month leaders of the G20 rich and emerging nations called for an outline Doha deal by the end of this year to help counter the financial crisis by warding off protectionism.

Lamy had previously indicated that a meeting could be held around December 13-15.

But on Monday, after meeting key WTO ambassadors to discuss revised negotiating texts on agriculture and industrial goods issued at the weekend, he decided that further consultations were needed on three sensitive issues before deciding whether to call in ministers next week.

These are proposals to create duty-free zones in some industries such as chemicals, a proposal to safeguard farmers in poor countries from surges in imports, and cotton subsidies — all of which touch on key U.S. interests.

“We have been and continue to be in a steady stream of communication between key trading partners and the WTO,” said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman for Susan Schwab, the top U.S. trade official.

Officials say a decision on whether to call a meeting is likely later this week.

Schwab is under pressure from leading U.S. lawmakers, farm groups and manufacturers not to go to Geneva for a ministerial meeting because they do not believe a good deal is possible on the basis of the latest texts circulated over the weekend.

Schwab is expected to discuss the troubled Doha round on Thursday with EU Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, who is making her first trip to Washington since taking over the EU’s top trade post in October.

She and other EU officials will be in town for a meeting of the Transatlantic Economic Council, a U.S.-EU forum to discuss bilateral trade, investment and regulatory issues.

Schwab will also meet on Thursday with Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean, who will be in Washington in the hope of traveling on to the possible ministerial in Geneva.

Australia, a major agricultural exporter, has been pressing hard for a conclusion to the Doha round.

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