Trade negotiators start to make Doha round trade-offs

Thu Feb 21, 2008 2:58pm EST
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By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA (Reuters) - Negotiators are starting to make trade-offs between agriculture and industrial goods in the long-running Doha round as they grope towards a deal to open up world trade this year, diplomats said on Thursday.

At this stage countries are making demands not concessions but there is now an explicit linkage between the two chapters, a crucial step in reaching an overall deal, they said.

The development is all the more remarkable given the lack of progress this week at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in talks on the individual areas. A meeting of ministers proposed for March or April to reach an outline agreement is where such trade-offs could normally be expected.

In a review over the past two days of a revised negotiating text for industrial goods, so many delegates drew comparisons with the new draft for agriculture, that several negotiators commented that the "horizontal" process of trade-offs had begun.

"I've heard the comment made," said Canada's WTO ambassador Don Stephenson, who chairs the industry talks and drafted the revised text.

"It's a very interesting and perhaps accurate comment," he told reporters, forecasting the linkages would increase in the coming days and weeks.

Any eventual deal will involve rich countries opening up their food markets by cutting agricultural tariffs and subsidies in return for developing countries cutting industrial tariffs and liberalizing services to open up their markets.

Increasingly, however, countries both rich and poor are complaining that what they are being asked to do in one area is out of line with what their partners are doing in the other.   Continued...