Over the weekend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, trade ministers from 20 governments agreed to try to work on a breakthrough in long-delayed World Trade Organization talks by late March or April. Depending on forging compromises from draft agreements on agriculture and industrial products, a ministerial meeting could be set in April around Easter in Geneva, Switzerland.
Shortly, New Zealand Ambassador Crawford Falconer 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. No hard deadline has been set for delivering those texts. However, some reports suggest they are likely to appear during the first week of February.
Negotiators would then either return to Switzerland for detailed negotiations in each of those areas - industrial products and agriculture, or the talks would move to a more senior 'horizontal' level where countries can look at cross sector trade-offs. To take a hypothetical example, if Brazil gets to cut its import tariff on autos by less than others, than the US would get the right to take smaller cuts in its farm subsidies. But there is understood to be an open debate among some governments over how the negotiations should proceed.
Reportedly the man chairing the talks, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy prefers to move quickly into the 'horizontal' phase once Falconer and Stephenson have delivered their new drafts. There is political incentive to wrap up the deal before President Bush leaves office at the end of this year.