Home » Uncategorized » WTO sees no ministerial conference in 2007 amid Doha impasse

GENEVA (AFP) — The WTO is expected to break its own rules by not holding a ministerial conference in 2007 given the low chances of securing a global trade deal by the year’s end, trade sources said Tuesday.

The global trade body’s rules state that a conference of ministers from the 151 members should be held once every two years, and the last such meeting took place in Hong Kong in December 2005.

But the chairman of the World Trade Organisation’s general council told delegates that such a meeting was unlikely to happen given the continuing impasse in multilateral trade liberalisation talks, known as the Doha Round.

“The factors which have prevented members taking a decision on the timing and location of the next ministerial conference before now continue to apply,” chairman Muhammad Noor said.

“All of the members with whom I have spoken accept that as a practical consequence it will not be possible to hold the conference before the end of 2007,” he added.

He stressed that many trading nations were concerned about the likely breach of the WTO’s rules, adding that “I know we all share a commitment to uphold all the legal agreements on which this rules-based organisation is founded.”

However, sources close to the organisation stressed that the WTO takes a pragmatic approach, and that members’ efforts were best spent trying to secure a conclusion to the long-running Doha Round.

Noor suggested that council members “return to this question as soon as the situation can be clarified.”

WTO director general Pascal Lamy told the council he still believed a deal was “as doable as it is essential.”

“The challenge now is to accelerate (momentum) in the days and weeks ahead… however, now more than ever, time is running against us,” Lamy said.

The Doha negotiating round, aimed at tearing down trade barriers, was launched in 2001 but has been mired in deadlock over disputes between developed and developing countries.

The United States and the European Union are under pressure to cut their agriculture subsidies but demand in return that other WTO members, notably developing nations, reduce their tariffs on imported industrial goods.

Washington said last month it was prepared to negotiate on the basis of proposals by the WTO’s chief agricultural negotiator, Crawford Falconer, to cut its subsidies to between 12.8 to 16.2 billion dollars (9.2 to 11.6 billion euros).

South Africa told the council on Tuesday that agriculture remains central to any successful outcome, particularly for developing countries, sources said.

WTO members have been debating proposals put forward by working groups on both agriculture and non-agricultural market access (NAMA).

South Africa, speaking on behalf of the “NAMA 11″ group of countries, urged greater flexibility for developing countries, sources said.

China said it supported South Africa’s proposals.