More than 20 trade ministers met with the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Switzerland on Saturday amid warnings that global trade talks were a crucial building block in an anti-poverty drive this year.
The talks are on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos
WTO Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum here that he was trying to "step up the pressure" with a view to completing the outlines of an agreement on cutting trade barriers by the end of 2005.
Several political leaders in the Swiss town of Davos underlined that the completion of a new round of trade liberalization, aimed primarily at helping developing countries, was an essential part of a boosted aid effort.
"We must have aid, trade and debt relief at the same time," French Finance Minister Herve Gaymard said as he joined Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to campaign for a huge boost to rich country help for Africa this year.
The trade talks -- which have been dominated by efforts to break down subsidies in agriculture -- have been dogged since 2001 by disputes between rich and poor countries that have almost led to their collapse.
"If we don't move on agriculture, we will have a more and more divided world between the rich countries and the poor countries," Luiz Furlan, Brazil's industry and trade minister told the forum.
During the informal meeting with ministers in a hotel here, Supachai will ask them to map out their objectives for trade talks by February 14, the date of a Trade Negotiations Committee meeting in Geneva. That would give a December WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong a chance to seal the key elements of an agreement, leaving only technical details to be completed in 2006.
World Trade Organization, WTO, Director General Supachai Panitchpakdi.
More progress needed
"They have moved, but they have not moved far enough to guarantee what I would see as a real progress at Hong Kong," Supachai said.
Shortly before the meeting, the top US trade official, Robert Zoellick, said the round of trade talks launched in Doha, Qatar in 2001, was part of the US administration's "transformational agenda" aimed at harnessing stable economic growth.
"In particular, the Doha agenda provides a tremendous opportunity for dealing with some of these growth issues," the US trade representative said, adding that 300 million people could be lifted out of poverty. While the round was lifted out of deadlock with an interim agreement to refocus the talks last summer, the 148 member states were confronted with several challenges including the growing global economic importance of China and India, Zoellick added.
"It fits nicely with the Doha agenda, because these are two rising economic powers, it's critical we integrate them into the system. You can see that China and India are going to be the core," Zoellick said, underlining that it was also a question of their relations with poor countries "as you can see in the textile area."
China's clothing exports are expected to receive a huge boost, largely at the expense of smaller textile-exporting developing countries, from the end of WTO textile quotas at the beginning of January. Although detailed discussion was not expected in Davos, Supachai said he might raise the issue of setting an end-date for the elimination of export subsidies in agriculture.