New Delhi: Ministers from over 35 countries pledged swift action to conclude a new global free-trade pact and boost the ailing world economy as they assembled on Friday for a final day of talks in New Delhi.
A speedy agreement on a deal to liberalise world commerce was the best medicine for the global financial downturn, said a statement issued by host nation India after the first day of informal ministerial talks on Thursday.
"This crisis actually gives all members a stronger sense of urgency to conclude the Doha Round negotiations," China's Commerce Minister Chen Deming said Thursday, calling a trade deal the best bulwark against protectionism.
A new study by Washington think-tank Peterson Institute for International Economics calculated a Doha accord could bolster global gross domestic product by up to 700 billion dollars a year.
India's disagreement with the United States over subsidy protection for poor farmers contributed to the 2008 collapse of the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation, aimed at fuelling global commerce and lifting millions out of poverty.
But in July, top industrial nations and five emerging economies, including India and China, agreed to put the Doha round back on track and conclude a deal in 2010.
India took the initiative, seeking to inject momentum into the negotiations by getting ministers to gather in New Delhi to set a roadmap for meeting the deadline.
"There was a unanimous affirmation (at the meeting) of the need to expeditiously conclude the Doha Round, particularly in the present critical global economic situation," said the statement issued by India.
The statement made no mention of a timeframe, but WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said he believed agreement could be achieved next year as long as there was political will.
"The meeting can be the real beginning of the end-game," said Lamy.
The Doha round began in 2001, but deadlock between the major trading blocs dashed numerous bids to forge a pact.
While Lamy said 80 percent of the work on a new deal was finished, Indian Trade Minister Anand Sharma cautioned there were still many unresolved issues, especially on farm subsidies and market access for industrial goods.
Sharma also told developed nations the development mandate was "the bedrock of the Doha Round" and could not be compromised.
Celso Amorim, External Relations Minister of Brazil, one of the other big trade players, said developing countries "have no more room for further concessions" to rich nations.
Developing countries like India, which has 235 million farmers, are hesitant to open their markets to what they fear will be cheap crops from overseas.
As ministers met Thursday, thousands of farmers and social activists blocked a main thoroughfare in New Delhi to demand the government ditch Doha.
"The rich countries with their subsidies will destroy Indian farmers," Ajmer Singh Gill, a senior leader of Indian farm group Bharat Kisan Union, told AFP.
The United States and the European Union are reluctant to abandon large agricultural subsidies that command widespread political popularity.
First Published: Friday, September 04, 2009, 10:12