- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2007

The stalled Doha round of world trade talks needs a push, World Trade Organization Director General Pascal Lamy said yesterday, adding that U.S. leadership in the weeks ahead is critical to the fate of the talks.

“If WTO members do not energize the negotiations soon, governments will be forced to confront the unpleasant reality of failure,” Mr. Lamy told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday.

Failure of the talks, he said, would mean losing free-trade progress already made, result in failure to address remaining trade inequities and would mean failure of the first round of trade talks under the WTO, which has existed only since 1995.

The United States, European Union, India, Brazil, Australia and Japan vowed earlier this month in India to speed up efforts to conclude the talks and said they wanted a deal by the end of the year.

Ministers from the “G-6” countries said they would work “with the entire WTO membership in the best interests of completing the [Doha] round in the time envisaged.”

A breakthrough in coming weeks, Mr. Lamy said, would send an important message that members of the trade organization are still committed to open markets and multilateral rules and would reinforce the foundations of the global economy.

Breakthrough is possible, Mr. Lamy said, saying the challenge is more political than technical.

Trade negotiators are watching carefully as the United States deals with extension of the president’s trade-negotiating authority, the farm bill and assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of free trade, Mr. Lamy said. Although they are internal issues, they are considered a gauge of President Bush’s and Congress’ commitment to the WTO talks.

Mr. Lamy cited other countries’ concerns that delays over extending presidential trade authority could reflect a lack of U.S. faith in the trade talks. But he also said many in Geneva think Congress likely will keep prospects for a quick conclusion to the Doha round in mind as they consider the legislation.

So, he said, “many WTO members believe we have a window of opportunity which will close unless there is clear progress over the coming weeks.”

Mr. Lamy called for U.S. leadership on the trade talks, saying that would be important to the talks. “At this critical juncture in the negotiations, the WTO urgently needs their full support,” he said.

In Doha, Qatar, where the talks were started in 2001, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned yesterday that developing nations will suffer serious damage if the WTO talks do not succeed.

“Should this round of trade talks fail, serious damage will be done to those who can least afford it,” he said at the start of a conference on development, democracy and free trade.

“The global trading regime needs to create opportunities for the poorest countries instead of leaving them at a disadvantage,” he told delegates including Qatar Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani; Briton’s former foreign secretary, Jack Straw; and South Africa’s former president, F.W. De Klerk.

“Everyone must redouble their efforts in the coming months to ensure success,” Mr. Ban said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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