Web Date: July 1, 2008
Global Trade Talks Revived
Trade ministers from around the globe will meet for the first time in two years later this month in Geneva, Switzerland, in a last-ditch attempt to push the long-stalled Doha round of multilateral trade liberalization talks toward a successful conclusion.
At a meeting of World Trade Organization ambassadors on June 27, Director General Pascal Lamy said a "maximum effort from everyone" would be needed to ensure that a ministerial meeting at WTO headquarters during the week of July 21 could lead to a breakthrough in the seven-year drive to cut industrial tariffs and agricultural subsidies.
The International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), the global voice of the chemical industry, has been advocating for an accord that includes the elimination of tariffs on all chemical trade worldwide.
"We applaud the initiative to bring the trade ministers back together, and we're hopeful that they will be successful this time," says Jack N. Gerard, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, which represents 134 major U.S. chemical manufacturers and is an ICCA member.
Gerard tells C&EN that he hopes the ministers "will recognize that there is more value in reaching an agreement that gets closer to our ultimate objective of zero tariffs around the world than there is in sitting and playing regional politics."
Lamy hopes to wrap up a final deal by the end of the year, before a new president takes office in the U.S. and changes in leadership occur at European Union institutions. However, differences remain among WTO's 152 member nations on two key unresolved issues: market access for industrial products and agricultural trade.
The negotiations, launched in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001, have been deadlocked because developing countries have refused to agree to significant tariff cuts on manufactured goods. Meanwhile, the U.S. and the EU will not commit to reducing farm subsidies unless nations such as India and Brazil agree to allow greater access to their markets.
Lower level negotiations in recent months have brought WTO countries closer to a compromise agreement. But Lamy acknowledged that failure of the ministerial meeting could mean years of further delay in the global trade talks. If a framework agreement cannot be reached at the end of July, "the chances of concluding the round this year are much less than 50%," Lamy said.
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