WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (AFP): US Trade Representative Rob Portman expressed hope yesterday that talks among trade powers in Switzerland next week would help get the WTO liberalisation drive back on track.
About 30 ministers from key trading nations are expected to join an informal World Trade Organisation meeting on the sidelines of the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland on January 27 and 28, the Swiss government said.
"It's a mini-ministerial, not meant to resolve issues finally, but I do think it's the right mix of individual ministers and countries to be able to make progress," Portman told reporters.
"I'm hopeful we have set the stage to deal with the core issues of market access. I hope that at the mini-ministerial in Davos, this will be the focus," he said.
The Swiss economics ministry said the meeting was aimed at discussing the next steps in global trade talks following the WTO's ministerial conference in Hong Kong last month, with the aim of clinching a deal by the end of this year.
The Hong Kong meeting concluded with agreement to remove farm export subsidies by 2013, to bring a swift end to cotton subsidies and to open rich country markets to more goods from the world's poorest nations.
But the 149 trading nations failed to achieve the full framework for the WTO's "Doha Round", leaving out core issues such as cuts in agricultural tariffs and opening up commerce in services and industrial goods.
Another full WTO ministerial meeting is due in April to try to sew up the full framework and steer the Doha Round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, to completion at the end of this year.
Portman reiterated that the ball lies in the European Union's court to make bolder proposals to reform its heavily protected farm sector.
"Unless the EU steps forward on agriculture, the emerging developing countries including India, Brazil and others will not step forward on industrial tariffs and services," he said.
"Now we're really up against a time crunch," he said, noting that he needs plenty of time to steer a WTO agreement through Congress before the administration's "Trade Promotion Authority" expires in June 2007.
Under the TPA, US lawmakers give a straight "yes" or "no" vote to trade deals negotiated by the administration. Once it expires, they will regain the ability to amend any agreement and so could torpedo the entire WTO process.