Thursday, November 15, 2001

DOHA, Qatar World trade ministers yesterday agreed to begin negotiations to pry open new markets for farm products, industrial goods and services and, they hope, head off a looming global recession.
Weary but relieved diplomats from the 142 World Trade Organization member nations gathered in a Sheraton Hotel ballroom to approve a declaration that commits them to wrapping up a new trade round in three years.
“A lot of people crossed the line [to make this deal], but they did it out of faith, hope, and some out of desperation,” Michael Moore, the WTO’s director-general, said at the closing ceremony.
The talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, which spilled over into an extra day, nearly broke down over India’s rejection of a draft agreement that was in place by yesterday morning.
India’s trade minister, Murasoli Maran, finally accepted the deal in the evening after a day of fast-paced diplomacy and enormous pressure from other delegates.
With the decision, the WTO has now opened the first round of global trade talks since 1986. But it marks the beginning, not the end, of what are sure to be three years of hard bargaining.
The WTO’s members are seeking wide-ranging market openings in every country from rich nations such as the United States to desperately poor ones such as Botswana.
For the United States, the world’s largest importer and exporter, the three-year negotiations will be difficult, but hold the potential of an enormous commercial benefit.
“As economic growth begins to slow worldwide, this decision is an affirmation of the importance of trade as an instrument of global economic growth and prosperity,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, a business association.
“It also holds out the promise of further integrating developing countries into the global trading system in ways that will increase their growth and income.”
The National Association of Manufacturers also praised the agreement.
“This new round offers an opportunity to eliminate untold barriers to trade and faster world economic growth,” said NAM President Jerry Jasinowski. “[Yesterdays] an-nouncement is a timely and important step toward restoring global economic confidence.”
The World Bank has said a new trade round, coupled with market reforms, could boost global income by $2.8 trillion over the next 15 years.
The deal should also help the WTO to repair the damage done to the group after a disastrous 1999 meeting in Seattle, which U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick emphasized in his remarks at the closing ceremony.
“We have sent a powerful signal to the world,” he said. “We have removed the stain of Seattle.”
WTO members also hammered out an accord, cemented midway through the meeting, that gives poor countries leeway in interpreting patent rules for drugs to fight pandemics such as AIDS and malaria.
Though the negotiations in Qatar were tough all around, among the most contentious issues was agriculture, which has complicated international trade talks for 50 years.
A broad coalition of countries led by Australia but supported by the United States sought a promise that negotiations would lead to the elimination of the European Union’s $4 billion in annual farm-export subsidies.
Europe ultimately managed to water down language in the accord on the payments, which economists say distort trade in favor of inefficient European farmers. But advocates of elimination still breathed a sigh of relief.
“It gets us started,” said Australia’s trade minister, Mark Vaile. “We know it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Even as the agriculture fight was resolved early yesterday, disputes with India almost derailed the talks.
India objected strongly to proposed work on environmental standards in trade agreements and on investment, antitrust policy and government procurement.
But 12 hours of patient diplomacy by Mr. Zoellick, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Mr. Moore ultimately persuaded India to back the Doha accord. Several calls were also made to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
WTO members ultimately agreed to delay the start of work in the areas to which India had objected, and attendees cheered loudly when Mr. Maran, the Indian trade minister, announced that his country would agree on a new round.
Mr. Zoellick will bring home his first major victory as the top U.S. trade negotiator, but is sure to face tough questions in Congress about the concessions he made in Doha.
In particular, Mr. Zoellick agreed to discuss changes to the U.S. system for slapping tariffs on imports that are “dumped” on the American market at unfairly low prices.
“The language is clear that we will preserve the instruments America must use, given our own relatively open market to counter unfair trade practices,” Mr. Zoellick said.
The move may have alienated House members whom he needs for approval of new trade-negotiating authority, congressional sources said.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide