With less than two months before the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference in Hong Kong, its director general warns much work remains to be done. Director General Pascal Lamy visited Hong Kong and talked about his hopes for the coming conference as well as the challenges ahead.
The World Trade Organization's Hong Kong gathering in December is supposed to approve the outlines of an agreement cutting subsidies, tariffs and other trade barriers, the goal set four years ago in the city of Doha.
During a visit to Hong Kong on Sunday, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy emphasized the importance of the conference. In a speech at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club, he called the December meeting the WTO's best opportunity to conclude the Doha round of trade talks by the end of next year. Mr. Lamy stressed that the Hong Kong ministerial conference must succeed.
"Now, what does success mean? In my view, and for what it is worth, it means we must use this occasion to resolve two-thirds of the issues on our agenda," he said. "We must complete the work, the core work, in agriculture, industrial tariffs and services."
One of the most crucial conditions for the success of the meeting is an accord on ending agricultural subsidies.
During the past week there has been a sudden flurry of efforts to end a deadlock in the negotiations.
The United States and the European Union have proposed plans to cut agricultural subsidies and tariffs. Both are in the spotlight because critics say U.S. and E.U. subsidies help farmers offload goods at artificially low prices, undercutting producers in poor countries.
Despite this new momentum, the 148 governments that are members of the WTO are still far from a breakthrough. Mr. Lamy says the WTO is struggling to finalize its preparations for the December meeting.
"And although I am not downcast on the prospects [of reaching an agreement], I really remain concerned at the size of the task at hand. With so little time remaining, we cannot afford to waste a single day, and everybody can be sure that I and the [WTO] secretariat will spare no effort to bring about a success in December," added Mr. Lamy.
Among other things, WTO negotiators also must reach accords on issues such as tariffs on industrial goods, and rules on opening service industries for foreign competition.
Mr. Lamy stressed Sunday that no agreement will be possible in Hong Kong, if the concerns of developing nations are not addressed. Three-quarters of the WTO's members are developing economies.