Ministers resolved to complete DDA negotiations by year end

Swiss Government hosted a mini-ministerial on the sidelines of annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, at Davos . Trade ministers from 20 governments met at a lunch hosted by Swiss Economy Minister Doris Leuthard. They agreed to try to work on a breakthrough in long-delayed World Trade Organisation talks by late March or April.

The meeting hosted by the Swiss Economy Minister was attended by Pakistan’s Commerce Minister while a parallel meeting of Heads of delegations took place on the same issues, attended by Dr.Manzoor Ahmad. The focus of the former was less on substance and more on procedures to be followed from now till the time that a mini- ministerial can be held. The progress in the negotiations especially after the texts released by the Chairs of NAMA and Agriculture negotiations in July 2007 was discussed with a view to finalize modalities in these two areas by Easter.

Pakistan's Commerce Minister, Mr.Shahzada Alam Monnoo, stated that “the current trading regime suffers from imbalances and these need to be addressed in the Doha development round. He said that it is a once-in-a-decade opportunity and to miss it would be catastrophic for millions around the globe. Making every effort to complete the round before the end of the year 2008 should be the goal in everyone’s mind and all delegations needed to contribute according to their capacities. We have to try and reach modalities on agriculture and NAMA so that a mini-ministerial can be held immediately after Easter, with the assurance that ‘nothing is agreed till everything is agreed”. It is very important for the most developed countries in the world to show the leadership , will and strength for achieving a fair and balanced outcome.”

On the sidelines of this meeting, yet another ministerial meeting took place of the Cairns group. At this meeting, the Commerce Minister stated that “it was the right time for all the membership to synergise their efforts to keep the momentum going and to ensure that Doha round negotiations must deliver results in agriculture which would improve the quality of life for millions of small farmers in developing countries.

According to the rest of the Ministers gathered, “A trade deal would inject much-needed confidence into a troubled world economy, and help ward off protectionist trends”. “We have a window of necessity which is also a window of opportunity”, said Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.

“We've agreed that, if the round is going to be done successfully, it needs to be done this year. It needs to be done on President Bush's watch”, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson told reporters. He added that "a failure to agree a free trade deal this year would put the text that had been agreed so far 'in deep freeze... and it will have turned to mash by 2010” when talks could continue. India expressed concern that the US especially may not play ball because of political compulsions. “My fear is that the US will get more protectionists in an election year, we hope that the developed countries will take the leadership in this round of negotiations”, said India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.

The Ambassador of New Zealand, Mr. Crawford Falconer, who is the Chair for the Agriculture negotiations, is expected to circulate a new draft agreement on agricultural trade reform. This is expected to be followed soon after by a new text covering market access in industrial products drafted by Canadian Ambassador Don Stephenson. While there are no fixed deadlines, some reports suggest these revised texts are likely to appear during the first week of February. Reactions to those will determine whether the Davos meeting was of any use and whether there will be a mini-ministerial in March- April of this year.