Jul 29, 2008

Goff Worried About WTO Round

Just spotted this on the wires from NZPA

Crucial talks on world trade liberalisation are hanging by a thread and the next 24 hours could determine the outcome of the latest round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, Trade Minister Phil Goff has told NZPA.
"The round in many ways is closer than it's ever been to reaching an outcome, which is the tragedy of the situation if we don't succeed," he said from Geneva this morning.
"There's a lot at stake, including the reputation of the WTO and multi-lateralism."
The ministerial-level talks were called to find a way through the impasse over agriculture, in particular the tariff rates that countries impose on imports.
The issue has been holding up wider trade liberalisation deals and Mr Goff said significant progress had been made over the last 11 days he has been in Geneva.
But a confrontation between the United States and developing countries led by China and India is threatening the outcome.
Mr Goff said it was over the Special Safeguard Mechanism, which allows importing countries to raise tariff levels to protect their local farmers when there is a surge in imports.
In the package the WTO is working on, that could happen when imports reach 40 percent above normal.
"Now China and some of the developing countries are saying the trigger point should only be 20 percent," Mr Goff said.
"Where we've got to is the US feels it has made as many compromises as it is able to and still sell the package to its domestic constituents and to Congress," he said.
"They have said no, the package can't be breached and it's a bottom line for the US."
Mr Goff said he hoped a compromise could be achieved, but if India and China, and some of the developing countries, also regarded their position as a bottom line the talks could break down.
"We're pretty much at crunch point," he said.
"It's hanging by a thread, if we're going to do the job, it has to be done in the next couple of days even if that means meeting through the nights."
Mr Goff said New Zealand, and every other WTO member, had much to gain from agreements already reached but the single issue of the Special Safeguards Mechanism was putting it all at risk.