HUNTSVILLE, Ontario (Reuters) - World leaders dropped a commitment on Saturday to complete the troubled Doha trade round this year and vowed to push forward on bilateral and regional trade talks until a global deal could be done.
Leaders from the Group of Eight rich nations, meeting north of Toronto, renewed a pledge to finish the World Trade Organization's Doha round, which was launched nearly nine years ago, but they included no target date for completion.
Last year, a G8 summit in Italy and a Pittsburgh meeting of the Group of 20 both committed to a 2010 end date that now looks impossible to meet.
A draft communique for a summit this weekend of the broader Group of 20, which includes emerging trade powers like China and Brazil, also had no target date for a Doha deal.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who chaired the G8 summit, said Doha was not dead.
"I don't think we can afford to say that. We've got to find a path over time to get to a successful conclusion," he told a closing news conference.
"Those of us who favor liberalized trade are not going to stand still. ... Canada and many other governments are committed to more aggressively pursuing bilateral and regional trade deals as a way of kick-starting the process while we see the Doha talks remaining stalled."
Trade ministers have long said a multilateral trade deal at the WTO would be more beneficial for the global economy than more limited bilateral and regional agreements.
But the Doha round has been dogged by differences among trade powers who want more access to one another's markets but have struggled to lower their own trade barriers.
U.S. President Barack Obama, after a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, said Washington planned to "methodically" move forward in resolving long-standing issues stalling completion of a trade pact with Seoul.
He said he aimed to have all the pieces in place in time for the next G20 summit in the South Korean capital in November.
"In a few months after that, I intend to present it to Congress," he said.
The deal has met stern resistance in the U.S. Congress, where many lawmakers have complained about provisions they say do too little to tear down South Korea's "non-tariff barriers" to U.S. auto imports.
The prospect of South Korean agreements with the European Union, Canada and other countries means the United States must act to improve its competitive position in the country, a senior U.S. official said, citing a study showing that U.S. exports stood to drop by about $30 billion without a deal.
Edward Gresser, director of the Democratic Leadership Council's trade and global markets project, commended the administration's commitment to the agreement.
"It is the largest of the prospective FTAs (free trade agreements), opens up some significant export opportunities for high-tech industry and agriculture in particular, and will strengthen one of America's pillar alliances in Asia," he said.
The head of the WTO, in Toronto for the G20 summit, urged the leaders to make the kind of concessions needed to kick-start the long-delayed Doha negotiations.
"Although 80 percent of the job is done (on Doha), negotiators are considering the remaining 20 percent, staring at each other waiting for the other side to move first," Pascal Lamy, director general of the World Trade Organization, said in a speech to business executives on Saturday.
Lamy said the G20, as the newly elevated prime forum for global economic cooperation, bore a special responsibility to get Doha to the finishing line.
"This would be the most powerful signal that the G20 remains committed to an open and sustainable economy."
Reporting by Alister Bull, Patricia Zengerle, David Ljunggren, and John McCrank; Aadditional reporting by Doug Palmer in Washington and Caren Bohan; Editing by Peter Cooney