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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 12:27 GMT
WTO boss pushes for trade deal
By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos

WTO director general
Panitchpakdi is calling for an end to the trade deadlock
The much-delayed deal to liberalise global trade could be struck by the end of 2006, the director general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Supachai Panitchpakdi urged countries to work "as hard as possible" and give clear commitments by the summer.

On Saturday, Mr Supachai will meet the more than 20 trade ministers attending the Davos forum.

The so-called Doha round of trade talks has been dead-locked for years, with industrialised and developing countries squabbling mainly over subsidies and tariff barriers for agricultural products.

A summit of the 148 WTO members in Hong Kong in December is supposed to agree a draft deal, but many observers believe that a breakthrough is unlikely before 2007.

'Torturous negotiations'

Mr Supachai described the pace of WTO trade negotiations as "torturous, difficult and time-consuming".

We've been pushed to the brink many times in the past
Supachai Panitchpakdi

"Before summer we need to see some figures" and the outlines of a "balanced package" from member states in order to move forward, he said.

But Mr Supachai warned that there were many "pitfalls".

The negotiations ahead "are going to be difficult". "We've been pushed to the brink many times in the past," he said.

In 2003 a global trade summit in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed when developing countries vetoed a deal that in their opinion favoured rich trade blocks like the European Union and the United States.

'They will deliver'

Not everybody in Davos is worried.

Brazil's trade minister Luiz Fernando Furlan said the current negotiations were actually "going quite well" - at least compared to the so-called Uruguay round of trade talks, which took seven-and-a-half years to complete and established the current system of free trade and the World Trade Organisation.

Pakistan's trade minister Humayun Akhtar Khan, who arrived in Davos straight from talks at EU headquarters in Brussels, said movement was possible.

EU countries would "put their money where their mouth is, I think they will deliver," he told the BBC News website.

Dispute settlement

But all eyes in Davos will be on the EU's new trade commissioner Peter Mandelson, and his outgoing US counterpart Robert Zoellick, who are both attending the forum.

Peter Mandelson
Mandelson has been playing it cool over aircraft subsidies

Mr Supachai praised both men for taking one step back from a trade war over subsidies for plane makers Boeing and Airbus., saying he was "very pleased" the pair avoided sending the row to the WTO's trade dispute panel.

Over the past 10 years, member states have brought more than 300 disputes to the WTO, a number that Mr Supachai said was a "sign of trust" in the fairness of the multilateral WTO system.

But he did add that he preferred "out-of-court settlements" between states.

Search for successor

Mr Supachai's term of office ends in August this year. He refused to comment on the search for a successor, not wanting to "influence the selection process".

Standing for the post are the EU's former trade commissioner Pascal Lamy, the foreign minister of Mauritius Jayen Cuttaree, former Uruguayan WTO ambassador Carlos Perez del Castillo and Brazil's current ambassador to the WTO Luiz-Felipe Seixas Correa.

On Thursday each of them had 75 minutes to put their case to the WTO's general council.

A decision on who will succeed Mr Supachai is supposed to be made by May.

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