Lack of commitment stalls Doha round: South African minister

08:06, May 31, 2011      

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Without a fundamental change in approach from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to prioritize the needs of developing nations, the stalled Doha round of trade negotiations will not be concluded in 2011, South African trade and industry minister Rob Davies said on Monday.

Addressing a media briefing in Cape Town, Davies said there is now recognition that the 2011 window of opportunity to complete the round has closed.

According to the South African Press Association (SAPA), he said South Africa's view, and the prevailing view of the WTO membership, is that the talks should focus on seeking relief for the world's least developed nations.

For example, some form of duty-free access to the markets of the developed world, a form of aid-for-trade agreement and a resolution of the so-called "cotton dossier."

SAPA reported that the term refers to trade-distorting cotton subsidies provided by rich countries, particularly the U.S., that are wreaking havoc in the cotton trade of the West African cotton- producing countries Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.

South Africa and fellow developing nations see the challenge to produce a deal to benefit the poorest countries as a test for the credibility of the WTO, Davies said.

"We would like to test the credibility of the organization to produce a meaningful package for least developed countries."

Davies said that since the talks began in the Qatari capital of Doha in 2001, they had lost sight of its original aim.

This is because developed nations refuse to negotiate themselves out of trade advantages, he said.

The South African minister said controversial issues such as industrial tariffs, agriculture and services will not be included in negotiations in search of a deal for developing nations.

In any package aimed at the poorest of the poor, South Africa's status as a fast-developing nation would mean that it would incur obligations, rather than relief he said.

"South Africa will be a net payer rather than a beneficiary."

Yet Davies said the African continent as a whole should benefit, even though Africa's trade prospects are hampered not merely by trade rules, but by "real economy" issues such as a lack of inter- linking roads and other infrastructure.

South Africa would like to make its contribution in the African framework, he explained. While many members of the trade talks round are unwilling to declare the round formally over, South Africa feels that it would be pointless to forge ahead, he said.

"Saying let's just work harder and harder and put more muscle into the process is not going to work... We need to accept that the world is perhaps not ready to deliver a development round."

Participants in Doha would now move to "Plan B" in the hope of delivering "a much smaller package" by the end of December, 2011, he said.

Source: Xinhua
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