New WTO Chief Faces Daunting Task | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 01.09.2005
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New WTO Chief Faces Daunting Task

The task facing Pascal Lamy as head of the World Trade Organization is indeed daunting. The Doha round of talks has stalled and officials are doubtful it can be revived.


Lamy doesn't want to come away from talks empty-handed

The task placed on Lamy's lap is so overwhelming that, according to one official, the Frenchman would have to be "Pascal Zorro" to succeed. In only three months a global trade summit in Hong Kong begins and the word amongst some close to the talks is, to put it gently, one of cautious criticism.

"I think we have to lower expectations because the talks have lagged," US Trade Representative Rob Portman said.

Summit about subsidies and tariffs

When WTO trade representatives meet in Hong Kong in December, Lamy will assume a difficult legacy from his predecessor, Thailand's Supachai Panitchpakdi. Before taking office, Lamy recently stated that he wanted an agreement to be reached at the end of the year.

Ernte nachwachsende Rohstoffe

Farm subsidies, particularly for the EU and the US, are one sticking point in the Doha Round

"We all know the destination, it is the conclusion of the round with a crucially important stop at the end of the year in Hong Kong. I will be 100 percent invested in this. I will be, as soon as possible, meeting with the chairs of the different negotiating groups," he said.

The passionate jogger will need endurance for the difficult agenda he faces, which includes slashing farm subsidies and liberalizing world trade markets. In 2003 at Cancun, Mexico, the continuation of the Doha round from 2001 ended in failure after the EU, the US, Canada and Japan faced intense opposition from the Group of 20 (G20) headed by then new member China together with Brazil, India, South Africa and 16 other countries.

Lamy was the EU's chief negotiator at Cancun. Now, he must bring all the sides together and hammer out an agreement.

"Pascal Lamy will bring a new aggressiveness to the job," Portman said recently.

Yet, no matter how skillfully the 58-year-old Frenchman may negotiate, the will must be there on the part of WTO members.

"He has no magic wand. The bottom line is that there will only be progress if countries want there to be. And it is not clear they do," India's trade ambassador, Ujal Singh Bhatia, told Reuters.

Little power at his disposal

The WTO director-general has little executive power so diplomats are placing their hopes on his experience as the EU's trade boss.

Indien Frachtschiff, Handel

Lower trade tariffs are another goal of the WTO negotiations in Hong Kong

Exactly these close ties to Europe lead groups critical of gloabalization, like Attac, to believe that despite the lack of real authority, Lamy will not work in the interests of developing countries. Whatever happens, all agree that an agreement, whether weak or strong, must be signed in December so that an end of 2006 deadline can be reached and Doha can finally be put into force.

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