Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) were in a rush on Wednesday to seek way out of the current impasse of the Doha Round talks after a crucial bid for a breakthrough collapsed.
A meeting of all the WTO members was called Wednesday to analyze the consequences and what should be the next steps, at which WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy urged delegates to have a time of reflection instead of making a hasty decision.
WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy attends a press conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland July 29, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
"I think we all now need to engage a serious reflection on the next steps of our collective endeavor, which is the Doha Development Agenda," WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell quoted Lamy as saying.
"I believe we have collective responsibility to begin this process of reflection right now," he said.
After nine days of marathon negotiations, trade ministers from over 30 major WTO members failed to narrow their differences on agriculture trade and industrial market access, the two key and harshly disputed areas of the Doha Round.
The meeting had been billed as the last chance for a conclusion of the long-stalled Doha Round this year, but the effort was stopped by an unresolved dispute between the United States and India on the so-called special safeguard mechanism, which would allow developing countries to raise agriculture tariffs to protect domestic farmers in the event of an import surge.
Lamy said all members now need to seriously reflect about "if and when" they can remove obstacles for a final conclusion of a new global trade pact.
"Whether it has been deadlocked, we have to find new idea and new solutions," he said.
The WTO chief said the immediate priority for WTO members is to reaffirm their commitment to the multilateral trading system.
Analysts warned the fresh failure, third in the history of the Doha Round, would deal a heavy blow to the confidence people have in the multilateral trading system and may prompt countries to seek bilateral solutions.
Lamy said although the talks failed, there were still achievements made, which can be built on for future success.
"Perhaps the dust will need to settle a bit before we can have a clear idea of those steps, but in my view, the progress we have made ... should be preserved," he said.
At the same meeting, European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson urged WTO members to resume talks in autumn.
"So, in the autumn, after a summer of reflection, we must renew our dialogue, nurture our relationships, talk like adults about where we go from here," Mandelson said.
"My team and I look forward to returning to Geneva, not to take up where we left off, but to make sure what we have achieved is not entirely lost," he said.
But Rockwell downplayed the possibility that a new try could be made as early as this autumn.
"I am not sure that is the view every member expressed," he said. "I think there are some political constraints. I think there are some time constraints. People want to examine how to deal with this very complex issue."
Separately, both India and the United States said on Wednesday they would remain on course of negotiations.
"I would only urge the director-general to treat this as a pause, not a breakdown, to keep on the table what is there," Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath told a press conference.
Describing the collapse as "distressing", U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab called for "path forward."
"Clearly, we need path forward," she said. "... in the meantime, the United States stands by our offers."
(Xinhua News Agency July 31, 2008)