'Be bold', urges WTO director general

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World trade organization International trade

WTO director general Pascal Lamy has urged ministers in Hong Kong
to be 'bold and courageous', but negotations have seen little

With a meaningful settlement on global agriculture looking doubtful, Lamy urged ministers in Hong Kong yesterday to resolve the underlying divisions that have existed since the Doha round of talks was launched in 2001.

"The reality is that the true magic of these negotiations is to achieve results where all participants are winners,"​ he said.

"But for that, some risks must be taken.

"Repeating long known positions, using negotiators' language, refusing to understand the reasons of counterparts and avoiding any risks - including political risks - will get us nowhere. Worse, it might put to risk valuable assets amassed with so much effort by our predecessors in the past."

It is still hoped that trade ministers will succeed in concluding negotiations on the WTO global trade agreement on agriculture and services, which would lead to the liberalisation of global food and agriculture markets.

But on the second day of negotiations yesterday, the main obstacle continued to be a standoff between the EU and emerging economies such as Brazil and India over cuts in farm tariffs.

Agricultural exporters, including the US, have criticised the EU's offer to cut farm tariffs as inadequate and its reluctance to set a firm date for eliminating agricultural export subsidies.

Europe is not prepared to make concessions unless others make firm proposals to open their markets.

Lamy acknowledged that ministers still have to explain to national constituencies that they have gained something in negotiations, and that this often makes concessions difficult. But he said that negotiators must be bold, open-minded and prepared to take chances.

"Taking a bit of risk - a calculated risk - will mean a chance for improved rules, for a level playing field, for free and fair trade - in short, the best chance for development, the backbone of the Doha Round,"​ he said.

Lamy also alluded to the negative opinion many people have of the WTO.

"The WTO is not the most popular international organization around, to say the least,"​ he said.

"[But] in spite of all criticism, the WTO decision-making process is democratic. If it were different, taking decisions on the negotiations would probably be easier. But it would not be as legitimate.

"It takes more time, it is more burdensome and cumbersome, but I am convinced it remains the best way to take decisions that impact directly the lives of billions of people."

Trade ministers will aim to conclude negotiations on the WTO global trade agreement on agriculture and services this month. The negotiators have already missed their initial deadline of 1 January 2005 for a final agreement on the Doha Round, which began in 2001.

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