Top trade nations target Doha deal in July

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The European Union said trading nations agreed Saturday to conclude a long-stalled Doha world trade deal by July, but the top US negotiator insisted "no timeline was discussed."

"Everybody agreed we are in the endgame, that we should get a deal in July," said EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht after he met counterparts including US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and China's Commerce Minister Chen Deming.

"For that we redraft texts in March," he said, following the talks on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, an annual networking event for the world's business elite in this Swiss ski resort.

A statement issued after the talks by the Swiss economy ministry, which hosted the event, said the parties had agreed that the overall package would have to be agreed by July for the talks to conclude this year.

But Kirk was more cautious, saying that -- while the US was committed to the search for a deal -- "There was no general agreement about a timeline."

Launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, the Doha Round of talks for a global trade pact has repeatedly missed deadlines amid disputes between developing and developed nations on cuts to be imposed on goods tariffs and farm subsidies.

On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a plea for the rapid conclusion of the deal, saying that it would amount to a cost-free stimulus for the economy.

Cameron made a strong push for a deal this year before the next annual Davos meeting, saying: "If we come back and we're still talking about it, then I think that would be hopeless."

"This has to be the year in which it happens, we cannot go on after a decade with another year."

According to Swiss Economy Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann, who hosted the 24 ministers, they "agreed... bilateral and plurilateral negotiations need to be seriously accelerated, the gaps in the positions need to be bridged."

He also noted that "the price for failure of the round would be too high for each of us and the multilateral system as a whole."

But like Kirk, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota was cautious about the July deadline.

Patriota referred only to 2011 as a target for the conclusion of the round, but did not refer to the July date.

He also pointed out that "those who ask for more, should also pay more."

In addition, Brazil wants the issue of exchange-rate manipulations to be included in the Doha negotiations.

"Devaluation of the currencies is certainly a part of the situation today," he told journalists.

"We raised the issue, the environment we're working in was one thing in 2008 and it's a different situation today," he added.

Brazil has been suffering from the strength of its currency the real, which has more than doubled in value against the dollar over the past eight years.

Asked how binding the July deadline is given the repeatedly missed previous attempts at getting a deal, World Trade Organisation Director-General Pascal Lamy said: "In international systems, deadlines are not constitutional."

"It's indications which ministers give to negotiators and probably more importantly, it's indications that ministers give to themselves," he added.

© 2011 AFP

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