July 30, 2008 / 4:40 AM / in 9 years

Canada trade minister hopes WTO talks can restart

OTTAWA/WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Canada’s trade minister said he was hopeful that the World Trade Organization would restart talks after they collapsed on Tuesday, but said officials would first need to smooth out some stumbling blocks.

<p>Michael Fortier (L) is sworn in as Canada's International Trade Minister while Prime Minister Stephen Harper watches during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa June 25, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

“I am somewhat, perhaps cautiously ... optimistic that the WTO, Mr. Lamy and his organization can kick-start the talks in the not-so-distant future,” Michael Fortier told reporters on a conference call from Geneva.

Fortier said WTO chief Pascal Lamy should let officials try to deal with some of the problems that wrecked talks aimed at forging a new global trade deal before Lamy summons ministers to restart negotiations.

“There was progress on a few issues so I think he needs to build that into the (equation) and then -- through the work of senior officials -- take the time to try and come to a resolution on some larger issues, which were clearly big, big red lines, stumbling blocks over the past 10 days,” he said.

Meanwhile, Canada, one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, meat and other foods, hopes to negotiate more bilateral trade deals for its export-dependent sectors, Fortier said.

But Ottawa will continue to stand firm on protecting its supply-managed domestic dairy and poultry sectors, Fortier and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said.

“No one was there without something in their hip pocket that they were asking for,” Ritz said, adding the talks failed on issues that had nothing to do with Canada’s demands.

The uncertainty left in the wake of the talks leaves dairy and poultry farmers feeling uneasy, said David Fuller, chairman of the Chicken Farmers of Canada, a marketing agency.

“My question is where does this leave us, and what’s the next step?” Fuller said. “We do need to find a good trade deal that’s going to benefit Canadian agriculture.”

But Canada’s position of pushing for liberalized trade in some areas while protecting others leaves the country sidelined in pushing for change, said Darcy Davis, an Alberta rancher and president of the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance.

“I’d like to see where Canada is like an Australia or a New Zealand and driving hard on these kinds of negotiations, instead of kind of putting one foot forward and one foot back,” Davis said in a phone interview from Geneva.

Canadian exporters had wanted to see a deal that would curb competitors’ subsidies and provide access to more markets to help make up for the rising value of the Canadian dollar, which has made Canadian exports more expensive, Davis said.

He said he expected talks would be set back for some time. “It goes in the freezer now, and things go bad in the freezer, too, so we’ll have to see what happens.”

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Peter Galloway

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