WTO's May meet crucial
Officials urgently need to break deadlock
When ministers and senior officials meet at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva early next month they will have the crucial task of finding a way out of a major impasse faced in the Doha Round.
The objective: to find a formula for reducing agricultural subsidies, or the deadlock will not be broken.
WTO members are tasked with moving from the framework deal reached in December in Hong Kong to finalising a position on the reduction of farming subsidies. However, they have still to agree the outline of their position on this key issue.
Apiradi Tantraporn, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department, said all members, particularly developing countries, were hopeful that the meeting could find a way out of the current deadlock.
"The framework [agreement] should break the deadlock and make the Doha Round goal of ending farm subsidies by 2010 come true," she said.
Apiradi said the next target date after May was to establish by July a formula for ending government subsidies. The final deadline for agreeing a suitable formulation is the end of December.
The WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December ended in agreement that both developing and developed countries should cut their agricultural subsidies by 2010. Trade ministers from the group's 149 members were tasked with doing whatever it took to reach agreement on a new accord in this highly important area.
Apiradi said she expected a positive outcome from the May meeting.
However, as Thailand has been faced with an internal political conflict in recent months, some observers are worried that the negotiating process will not be greatly advanced by the caretaker government. Senior Thai officials will continue to negotiate on the technical details but will not be able to make any commitments.
Apiradi said the Kingdom had already proposed to the WTO a form of protection for "special goods" under the organisation's tariff-cut formula. The special-goods proposal is another method for agricultural countries to protect their sensitive products.
The WTO is trying to find a new direction for cutting farm subsidies, while also seeking to lower agricultural and industrial tariffs.
Meanwhile, Apiradi said the prolonged suspension of free-trade-agreement (FTA) negotiations with the United States could lead to an end to the bilateral talks.
She said the US was planning to start FTA negotiations with Malaysia in June. If those talks end in agreement, it is possible Washington will close the door on the discussions with Bangkok.
"It is possible that the US will not continue the FTA talks with us if the suspension [of talks] lasts longer than one year," she said.
Although the delay in the Thai-US FTA talks will probably mean some losses for the private sector, it will nonetheless give the Kingdom time to review those aspects of the talks about which many are unhappy.