Monday, August 3, 2009

Doha deal is 80% complete - Lamy

August 3, 2009 - Business Report - By Ethel Hazelhurst

International trade negotiators had reached agreement on about 80 percent of the issues in the Doha round of trade talks, but there appeared to be no end in sight for the process, World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general Pascal Lamy said at the weekend.

However, he said the world's political leaders had made a commitment to finish the round by the end of next year.

One of the sticking points, from South Africa's point of view, is its claim to be a special case. In the Uruguay round of talks, concluded in 1994, it was treated as a developed country so it was not accorded the concessions available to developing countries. Lamy said this had been acknowledged in the negotiations but what was still at issue was how much flexibility the country would be allowed to address the situation.

Lamy spent two days in South Africa, meeting Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel.

He attended a workshop with Nedlac - the government, labour and business negotiating chamber - on Friday night to outline progress on the round and to interact with the parties involved.

The Doha round of trade talks was launched in Qatar in November 2001, but has stalled on a number of occasions.

Lamy's role is to facilitate the negotiating process and as WTO head he is often the target of attack. This trip was no exception as Cosatu on Friday staged a demonstration against Lamy and the WTO.

In a memorandum to Parliament, it accused Lamy of "unilaterally changing" the scheduled meeting with Nedlac.

But Lamy said the time of the meeting had been changed to accommodate cabinet ministers who were tied up with Southern African Development Community commitments.

He said, at the workshop, all the constituents, including a Cosatu representative, had spoken and had presented their views.

He spoke of the virtue of having a "Nedlac position" in the negotiating process.

He said, though the points raised by the government, labour and business representatives were not identical, there was common ground. Lamy said: "I wish there were more Nedlacs on this planet."

He explained there were 20 topics in the negotiating package, ranging from agricultural subsidies and intellectual property rights to industrial and agricultural tariffs, among others. The package had to be agreed as "a single undertaking… nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

Trade ministers from 17 countries - including South Africa and the Major Economies Forum - will meet next month in India to discuss the round. Lamy said the topic would be the only item on the daily agenda at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh in the US next month.

Peter Draper, the trade programme head at the SA Institute of International Affairs, said the outlook for the completion of the Doha round appeared "cloudy".

"The broad architecture of the deal is in place but the political will everywhere is a problem and the global recession makes it more difficult to liberalise trade," he said.