World Trade Organization members still have much work to do if they want to achieve their goal of reaching a new deal on opening up global commerce in 2010, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said on Tuesday.
Political leaders have set next year as the deadline for completing the Doha round of negotiations, which began in 2001 aiming to boost prosperity by cutting industrial and agricultural tariffs and farm subsidies, and to help developing countries to trade more.
But the longest-running trade round remains beset by differences between exporters and importers and rich and poor countries after 8 years of on-again off-again negotiations and missed deadlines.
If we are to conclude this round in 2010 as you have pledged to, we will need to take a hard look at where things stand early in the new year and map the road that would lead us to a successful result, Lamy told the WTO's general council.
Lamy said the past year had seen modest progress in the often glacial talks in all the areas under discussion. This is most marked in trade facilitation -- helping developing countries to increase their trade by removing red tape, reducing bribery and corruption, and improving infrastructure.
The World Bank has estimated that cutting costs by 50 percent to increase efficiency at ports and airports could increase global trade in manufacturing by up to $377 billion a year and triple any benefits for consumers from cutting duties.
But in other areas progress has been technical rather than substantive. In one critical but controversial area progress had been only subliminal, Lamy said. This is a proposal to end duties in some industrial sectors beyond any general cuts in duties, which the United States is pushing strongly while big emerging countries such as China are resisting.
Lamy, a Frenchman, expressed mystification at members' lack of interest in drafting new rules to govern regional trade agreements which are increasingly important in global commerce.
He listed a packed schedule of negotiations on different topics in the next few months, at some of which Geneva-based diplomats would be reinforced by senior officials from national capitals, which could advance the deal.
Lamy stressed that a three-day WTO ministerial conference starting on November 30 would not be a Doha negotiating session but was an opportunity to assess the full range of WTO activities, from fighting protectionism to resolving trade disputes.
But ministers would certainly take stock of the Doha negotiations, which are central to the WTO's efforts to enhance the global trading system. The conference should provide a launch-pad for intensifying the talks with the aim of clinching an outline deal in the first quarter of the new year, he said.