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EU, US call for world trade deal by end of 2008

Top trade officials from the European Union and the United States called Monday for an agreement on global trade talks by the end of this year.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who met US Trade Representative Susan Schwab in Brussels earlier on Monday, said both the EU and the United States remain committed to the conclusion of the Doha round of trade talks by the end of this year. “We both agree this means moving rapidly towards agreement on the modalities in the early spring,” Mandelson told a joint press conference with Schwab, adding the upcoming modality package should strike a balance between agriculture, industrial goods and services. The Doha round has missed several deadlines since they were launched more than six years ago in the Qatari capital with the aim of promoting development through reducing trade barriers. The WTO members have pulled themselves together for a new flurry of intensified negotiations since early September, trying to narrow their differences on reducing agricultural subsidies, tariffs and industrial trade barriers. But no breakthrough has been made, despite willingness from all members to continue the talks.

According to a new WTO roadmap, the chairmen for agriculture and industry talks should issue revised draft proposals in late January or early February, so that modalities can be agreed one month later. Mandelson said the revised chair’s text must enable the process to move to its next stage, but ambition or momentum is needed to reach breakthrough in spring if all the parties want to complete the round by the end of the year. Echoing Mandelson, Schwab said a lot of progress has been made very quietly over the last six months in Geneva in multilateral negotiations. “We want to see that we come together, the sooner the better, to achieve closure on the Doha round in 2008,” she said, warning it cannot be done without a comprehensive deal on agriculture, manufacturing and services, among other issues. “The single undertaking will require all these issues to be addressed before the Doha round comes to closure,” Schwab said.

Trade ministers from WTO members are scheduled to have a formal lunch meeting in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of this week, which Mandelson said would be able to help put a clear roadmap in place. Schwab said last week the upcoming few months would be critical for reaching an agreement on the Doha round. (