- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2005

GENEVA (AP) — Pascal Lamy takes office today as the new head of the World Trade Organization, pledging to re-energize negotiations ahead of a crucial global trade summit in three months in Hong Kong.

But while nearly 150 countries agreed Mr. Lamy was the best person to lead the organization, key negotiators are saying even the former European Union trade chief may be unable to overcome the stalemate that has stalled talks over a new global pact.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of us following both what happened and what did not happen,” Mr. Lamy said at WTO headquarters. “Hong Kong, obviously, is and remains priority number one.”

Mr. Lamy, a French Socialist, was chosen to succeed Thailand’s Supachai Panitchpakdi, having convinced both developed and developing countries that he could prod countries toward compromise and break the impasse.

He had been criticized during his five years as Brussels’ top trade negotiator for making too many concessions on farm trade, but has pledged to focus as the WTO leader on the needs of developing countries.

Mr. Lamy agreed with negotiators that global trade talks would have to pick up the pace, citing a July meeting in Geneva where negotiators missed a deadline for reaching a framework deal.

Ministers hope that in December in Hong Kong they can hammer out a new global trade pact that will slash subsidies and reduce tariffs, with emphasis on freeing up agricultural markets for poorer countries.

Many key players have expressed concerns about prospects for Hong Kong after the July failure left little time for Mr. Lamy and the organization’s 148 members to broker a draft by the end of the year.

“I think we have to lower expectations because the talks have lagged,” U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Washington. “We have not made the progress over the last year or so that all of us hoped for. There are lots of reasons for that. We have an ambitious agenda, and these are tough issues.”

Mr. Portman said that the end of 2006 remained the key deadline for concluding negotiations, and that he was “optimistic” that Mr. Lamy could re-energize the talks.

“He brings expertise and the skills that are needed to pull together the major economies like the United States and the European Union, and also developing countries, into a consensus,” Mr. Portman said.

The so-called “Doha Round” of global trade talks — named after the Qatari capital where they were started in 2001 — is already well behind an original December 2004 deadline. The round is supposed to address the concerns of developing countries.

“It’s quite a tall order,” Brazil’s WTO ambassador, Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, told AP. “The expectations that we all had for this year were predicated on some progress to have been achieved by July, and we haven’t done that.”

Mr. Seixas Correa and Mr. Portman agreed that agriculture negotiations remained the most sensitive issue. Progress has been slow this year in talks between rich countries determined to protect and support their farm industries, and poorer countries seeking greater market access.

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