The World Trade Organization’s 147 member states agreed on the guidelines for continuing the so-called Doha Round, which had been in trouble since the collapse of talks almost a year ago in Cancun, Mexico.
“This is a historic moment for this organization,” WTO chief Supachai Panitchpakdi told a news conference after the adoption of the pact after five days of almost round-the-clock negotiating.
The hard-won deal on a series of contentious trade issues, ranging from farm reform to the launch of negotiations on a new customs code, puts the Doha Round firmly back on track, trade officials said. Failure in Geneva last week could have delayed further trade liberalization for years.
Rich nations welcomed the deal, which would eventually force them to rein in the huge subsidies for their farmers and give developing nations better access to their farm markets.
“The Doha Round is back on track. The results are good for the EU and good for developing countries,” EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy told reporters. He added that the round might be completed by the end of next year.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the accord was a “crucial step for global trade.”
“There’s a lot of work yet to be done. But today’s framework is a milestone,” he said.
The Doha Round began in late 2001 during negotiations in Doha, Qatar and was originally supposed to be completed by the end of 2004, but trade officials long ago abandoned that deadline.
Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, whose country is a leader of the G20 developing country alliance that played a key part in the Cancun debacle, said it offered a “combination of trade liberalization and social justice.”
While applauding the Geneva deal, some analysts cautioned that the accord was short on detail and put off many of the hardest decisions.
“It is clear from the ambiguity … that important and difficult decisions have been deferred,” the National Foreign Trade Council, a U.S. business lobby, said in a statement.
Oxfam, a British advocacy group for poor nations, also warned that the results were preliminary.
“We are three years into negotiations, yet the results of this meeting fall far short of what is needed to reform world trade rules so that they work for the poor,” said Celine Charveriat, head of its Geneva office.
Negotiators made progress in contentious farm trade issues, laying down principles for how negotiators in Geneva should bring about the planned deep cuts in subsidies.
“This is the beginning of the end for (farm) subsidies. Export subsidies will be eliminated first,” Amorim said.
The framework lays down similar, although vaguer, benchmarks for industrial goods and services and launches negotiations to fight red tape and corruption.