World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Pascal Lamy said Tuesday that he was still cautious about the outlook of the Doha Round of global trade negotiations despite a detailed work program drawn up by senior officials last week.
"At this stage I remain cautious in my forecast. It would be premature for me to predict today that the necessary political engagement will in fact take place over the next three months," Lamy told an informal meeting of WTO ambassadors.
"Let us be under no illusions... a work program in itself, as necessary as it may be, will not deliver a substantive result," he said.
The Doha Round of trade opening talks have met one setback after another since its launch in 2001, with major WTO members divided on such tough issues as agricultural tariffs and subsidies as well as industrial market access.
A recent meeting of more than 30 trade ministers in New Delhi re-energized the stalled talks, and senior officials meeting in Geneva last week managed to work out a detailed work program for the next three months with an aim to conclude the whole round of talks in 2010.
The so-called work program is actually a long series of negotiating sessions on the various areas of the Doha Round, notably on agriculture and NAMA (non-agricultural market access), the two areas which have long blocked progress of the negotiations.
The program also requires the regular participation of senior officials from key WTO members, who are to meet in Geneva for one week in each of the rest three months of this year.
Lamy said the emergence of the work program was "an important step." It is also "what the objective needs of the negotiating process require if we are to be back on track - and stay on track -to conclude next year."
But he stressed that the work program itself was insufficient to lead to the conclusion of the negotiations, and a Doha global trade deal "can only come from political engagement and from the hard bargaining on the few remaining issues that we have yet to see."
The WTO chief said negotiations in Geneva should accelerate and political leaders, especially the G20 leaders meeting this week in Pittsburgh, should also show leadership and responsibility.
"Leadership is about responsibility. Failure to act, not just in Pittsburgh, but also here in Geneva, will be hard-felt by the entire international community," he said.
"We all know that keeping trade open is crucial for many (WTO) members to exit the crisis. And 60 years of experience have told us that the best way to keep trade open is to keep opening trade, while, of course, creating the necessary level playing field with rules," he added.