Trade ministers from 24 WTO members said on Saturday that they were committed to bringing the Doha Round talks back on track, although major hurdles involving agriculture trade and industrial market access remain ahead.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and other ministers met for about three hours in Davos on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting.
During the discussions, the ministers "clearly expressed a renewed commitment to put the Doha Round back on track and to achieve a broad-based deal," said a statement issued after the informal gathering.
The ministers also expressed "a strong wish for a quick resumption of full scale talks in Geneva to strive for a qualitative high level result and hammer out a deal," said Swiss Economics Minister Doris Leuthard, who chaired the meeting together with WTO chief Pascal Lamy.
According to the statement, "the clear signal for the resumption of full scale negotiations in Geneva" also got strong support from political leaders and the business community gathered in Davos for the annual economic forum.
Speaking to reporters, Lamy said this informal ministerial meeting of selected WTO members aimed at taking stock of the current state of the Doha Round and framing next steps.
Substantial issues, particularly the differences on the real numbers of farm tariff and subsidy cuts, were not touched during the discussions. In other words, the deadlock that brought about the suspension of the five-year talks last July was in no way broken.
To break the deadlock, major WTO members need to try "a new approach" that is different than last July, when so-called last- ditch negotiations among key players including the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India collapsed, Lamy said.
But Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath all expressed a certain degree of optimism following Saturday 's meeting, describing its outcome as a forward step.
Amorim said he got "a positive sense" from the meeting and left it with "a higher feeling of optimism" that a deal could be achieved.
"I think I also detected a sense of urgency which I don't think was there before," he told reporters.
Amorim expressed hope that "some sort of breakthrough" should be there in March or early April, ahead of the expiration of the US government's fast track authority for signing trade deals.
US Trade Representative Susan Schwab also said that she was optimistic about the Doha Round trade talks, following the meeting on Saturday.
But she reiterated that any new US offer on farm subsidy cuts was subject to the EU making concessions on farm tariffs and major developing countries such as India and Brazil providing more market access opportunities.
India's Nath, for his part, stressed that the Doha Round trade talks must keep its mandate of development and any final deal should ensure more trade flows from developing countries to developed countries.
He hoped that the Doha Round would have some breakthrough instead of going "round and round" once the full process started in Geneva.
(Xinhua News Agency January 28, 2007)