GENEVA, May 4 (AFP): Sluggish WTO talks on tearing down global barriers to commerce are facing a moment of truth in the coming six weeks, US Trade Representative Rob Portman said Wednesday.
Portman, who had spent three days at the WTO's Geneva base with other senior officials taking stock of the slow pace in the 149-nation Doha Round talks, said Brussels must offer more access to its agricultural markets to help steer the negotiations to a successful conclusion.
"Ultimately, the gains (from the Doha Round) will come from liberalising trade, opening markets and knocking down barriers," Portman said.
"I think we need to get back to that truth. The next four to six weeks will be the moment of truth," as negotiators try to make up for lost time after missing an April 30 deadline for a deal on the mathematics of cutting trade barriers, he said.
The Doha Round, named after the Qatari capital where it was launched in 2001 in an effort to use trade reforms to boost development in poor countries, has stumbled repeatedly.
Washington and Brussels regularly trade blame for the headaches in the talks.
Developing countries have resisted lowering their own barriers to commerce in industrial goods and services, saying rich nations must offer further access to their farm markets.
Washington has also been spotlighted, over the subsidies received by US farmers which are accused of undercutting their competitors in the developing world. But the EU is facing most of the pressure.
Portman said that slashing farm tariffs remained the 'primary concern' for the vast majority of WTO members.
"It's hard to avoid the conclusion that unless there is a more ambitious result in market access than what is currently on the table, there is not going to be a successful round."
On Tuesday, Portman and Australian Minister for Trade Mark Vaile issued a joint statement saying that the EU held the key to the talks.
The move followed comments by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in recent weeks indicating that he was ready to go further on agriculture, if the United States showed similar flexibility.