The World Trade Organisationâ€™s Doha round to free up trade is nearly complete and world leaders are clearly voicing the political will to reach a deal next year, Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean said on Wednesday.
Creanâ€™s comments, ahead of a meeting hosted by India this week of some 35 trade ministers to advance the talks, were key because negotiators will not put all their cards on the table and reach a deal until they are convinced the negotiations, now in their eighth year, have reached the final stage.As a result there has been a disconnect recently between repeated calls by presidents, prime ministers and trade ministers to finish the trade talks and the apparent inertia of the detailed negotiations in Geneva.â€So far as the round is concerned, we are very close to its conclusion,â€ Crean told a meeting hosted by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on the sidelines of the Delhi talks.
â€œWe are now in the end-game of the Doha negotiations.â€Crean, one of the strongest proponents of a deal, said a Doha trade pact would provide an economic stimulus to help pull the world out of the recession and act as a bulwark against protectionism.
He recalled a recent study by Washingtonâ€™s Peterson Instititue for International Economics had concluded a Doha deal could inject $300-700 billion a year into the global economy.Crean said he was sure that both India and the United States, whose differences in the past have blocked agreement, were now committed to reaching a Doha deal. Indiaâ€™s new trade minister, Anand Sharma, had convened this weekâ€™s talks, and U.S. President Barack Obamaâ€™s administration had also signalled its engagement, he said.But the problem for the United States was that it knew what it had to give up — hefty subsidies for American farmers that depress world prices for agricultural produce — but was not clear what it would gain in exchange, and that required other countries to show some flexibility, he said.â€This isnâ€™t a conclusion thatâ€™s going to happen if one side thinks itâ€™s only the other side that has to give. Both sides, if theyâ€™re to take, have to give,â€ Crean said.
WTO members must also advance negotiations on areas that have so far seen little movement, for instance services such as banking and telecoms that account for 70 per cent of world gross domestic product, while continuing to push for an outline deal in the core areas of agriculture and industrial goods such as cars and clothes, he said.And the talks could only move ahead if major players try to get clarity by negotiating one-to-one or in small groups in the areas that affect them, even if the final deal has to be approved by all 153 WTO members, he said. But a top Indian industrialist showed just how hard it would be to secure a deal when he reiterated Indiaâ€™s position on two of the issues that torpedoed a round of ministerial negotiations in July last year.
Dhruv Sawhney, past president of the CII and chairman of Triveni Engineering & Industries, told the meeting that India insisted on a safeguard to protect subsistence farmers from a surge in imports in the face of lavish agricultural subsidies in rich countries, and rejected calls by the United States and others to abolish tariffs entirely in some industrial sectors.â€The introduction of these right now is something thatâ€™s taking away from the developmental nature of the round,â€ he said of the sectoral deals, warning they would hurt Indiaâ€™s small and medium-sized businesses.Crean said the principle of a safeguard for poor farmers was generally accepted but it must not be used to choke off normal growth in trade. He said India too could benefit from sector deals in some areas, such as one proposed for jewellery trade. Sawhney said Indian business wanted to see a Doha deal.
â€We really are very keen for this development round to be successful and itâ€™s in this spirit that we are fully supporting the government in taking this initiative,â€ he said. Crean welcomed this, adding it was important for businesses in every country to put pressure on governments to reach a deal.He said the aim of the Delhi talks is to identify the remaining gaps and provide clarity about what different countries want in those areas.
, and ensure regular political involvement of ministers in the negotiating process. Ministers hoped to be able to report that the talks were making progress to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh this month, he said. But even Australia is looking at other options to promote trade besides the Doha talks.Crean said he would return to Delhi next month for talks with Sharma on developing bilateral ties and was already looking at the possibility of a free-trade agreement between the two.And noting that India and Australia, like Japan, China, South Korea and New Zealand, had signed free-trade agreements with the southeast Asian grouping ASEAN, he said it was time to look at creating a regional free-trade zone for all those states with a market of 3 billion people and GDP of 17 trillion dollars.