WASHINGTON (AFP) — World Trade Organization chief Pascal Lamy and US trade negotiator Susan Schwab held talks in Washington Friday in an effort to breathe life into the moribund Doha Round of negotiations.
Lamy's visit to the US capital comes on the heels of his trip to India last week as he tries to broker compromise after Geneva talks collapsed last month mainly over a US-India impasse on a special agricultural protection.
The Indian government told the WTO director general it would return to global trade talks if the US signals it believes the deadlock can be broken.
Schwab, the US trade representative, said she and Lamy had "covered a fair amount of substance and process" in talks over a private dinner late Thursday and for about two and a half hours this morning.
They were "talking about the way forward, talking about concerns we have about how we have seen and are seeing a deterioration in the package, in what was on the table in July," she said.
Schwab said she had "encouraged" the WTO chief "to convene senior officials sooner rather than later" in Geneva, mentioning a meeting in September.
Lamy and others, such as Brazil and the World Bank, are trying to get the ministerial attempt at a breakthrough on key trade issues in agriculture and industry back on track.
World Bank president Robert Zoellick this week outlined suggestions to break the deadlock over the proposed agricultural safeguard that would protect farmers from a flood of imports.
Schwab, in an interview in a trade newsletter published on the eve of her meeting with Lamy, said the United States supports holding talks with senior officials from a small number of countries in September to explore the possibility of restarting the Doha Round.
Such an effort would help preserve the progress achieved during a failed July ministerial meeting and prevent its further erosion, she told Inside US Trade.
"We need to come to the table in September at the senior official level to test the seriousness of going forward, to bring forward new ideas to overcome some of the problems that we encountered in July that we were not able to overcome at that time, and quite frankly to stop the deterioration and the erosion of what was on the table in July," Schwab was quoted as saying.
Schwab expressed hope that the September meeting could "clear the way, conceivably, for another round of ministerial engagement."
The US trade negotiator suggested talks could start among a "small group" of senior officials, and that the group did not necessarily have to be the same that was the core of the negotiations during the July meeting of ministers from some 30 WTO member countries.
That group was comprised of the US, the European Union, Brazil, India, China, Australia and Japan.
Schwab said she would be talking with the WTO director general this week about the senior officials meeting in September, which she said should involve "those countries in leadership roles."
The Geneva meeting collapsed in late July in an impasse between India and the US over a special safeguard mechanism that would allow nations to impose a special tariff on agricultural goods if imports surge or prices fall.
The US rejected Indian proposals that developing nations should be allowed to boost duties by an additional 25 percent on farm products if imports surged by 15 percent.
Washington insisted extra duties should be allowed only if imports rose by 40 percent.
In New Delhi last week, Lamy told reporters he was leaving with a sense of India's "political will" to resume talks and he would conduct the "same exercise" in Washington to gauge the political mood.
"I will play the role of a midwife if the negotiating parties want delivery of the baby," he said.
The Doha Round, launched in 2001 in the Qatari capital, has repeatedly missed deadlines set for its conclusion.
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