GENEVA, July 24 (AFP): Key negotiators have made no progress as they try to bridge persistent differences and end a deadlock in the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) struggling Doha Round talks on reducing trade barriers, diplomats said today.
Crunch talks between six major trading nations Sunday failed to deliver the much-needed breakthrough to end what WTO chief Pascal Lamy has warned is a crisis at the global body.
Top officials including US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson and counterparts from Australia, Brazil, India and Japan were renewing their effort Monday with another meeting behind closed doors in Geneva.
The Doha Round is teetering on the brink after years of disagreement over the reforms to agricultural and industrial trade that members of the 149-nation WTO would have to enact.
The round, which was launched in 2001, has been marked by repeated rows among WTO heavyweights.
Much of the deadlock centres on the farm trade, particularly US farm subsidies and EU duties on agricultural imports.
The key trading nations are at loggerheads over the relative concessions required.
Talk of flexibility is tempered by a common refrain at the WTO: that it is up to others to make a move if they want to get something in return.
The Geneva gathering is scheduled to be followed by further talks here on July 28-29.
The meetings come in the wake of failed WTO talks three weeks ago, as well the Group of Eight (G8) summit of leading powers in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
The G8, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States on July 16 had said that negotiators should settle differences within weeks and help steer the Doha Round to its conclusion by the end of the year.
The following day, G8 leaders joined forces with counterparts from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to try to spur the round.
The WTO round is meant to yield an international treaty that would tear down trade barriers and enable commerce to improve living standards in developing countries.
The round was meant to be completed with a trade deal in 2004. That target was later shifted to December 2006 because of persistent breakdowns.
Washington is under pressure to make deeper cuts in its farm subsidies, which according to critics skew trade in favour of US agribusiness.
Other WTO members are unhappy with an existing US subsidy-cutting proposal, saying it lacks bite and would leave the US room to spend around 22 billion dollars-more than current payouts.
But deeper cuts would be difficult for Washington to sell domestically ahead of crucial mid-term elections in November, unless US negotiators can show they have obtained more from their counterparts.
Developing countries, meanwhile, also want the EU to reduce its customs duties on imports of agricultural goods.
At WTO talks last month, the EU said that if others made the right moves, it was prepared to move close to the 54-per cent tariff cut demanded by Brazil and India.
The current EU proposal is 39 per cent, although EU officials have said Brussels could accept 51 per cent.
Brussels and Washington agree on one thing: they want more concessions from the developing world on trade in services and manufactured goods.