A deal to free up world trade could be delayed several years if no progress is made by the end of 2007, the United States said on Thursday, as it stepped up criticism of India and Brazil over failed talks.
Talks between the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India, aimed at reaching a breakthrough in the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Doha round, collapsed in late June, leaving the future of the long-running trade negotiation in doubt.
U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab, swiping at India and Brazil over the breakdown of talks in Potsdam, Germany, said some countries wanted Doha to fail and it was now crucial for some new progress before 2008.
"I think there is a sense that if we don't get it done this year, Doha could well go into hibernation for several years to come," Schwab told reporters on the sidelines of a trade meeting in the Australian city of Cairns.
"There are some countries who really don't want a Doha round outcome," Schwab said. "I think that's unfortunate."
While she did not specifically name India or Brazil as wanting the talks to fail, Schwab said the United States was surprised at "how rigid and inflexible" they were in Potsdam.
The Doha round was launched nearly six years ago with the aim of freeing up world trade, injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into the world economy and helping to lift millions of people out of poverty.
Many countries had hoped the so-called G4 talks in Germany would lead to a successful Doha outcome. But they broke down over how much major developing nations should open up to farm and manufactured imports, and how much support Europe and the United States continue to give their farmers.
Help from APEC
Schwab is in Australia for a meeting of trade ministers from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, which is expected to make a firm statement in support of Doha in its final communique on Friday.
APEC economies account for 60% of world economic activity and about 50% of world trade, and Schwab said the forum of Pacific-rim nations could make a significant contribution to help get Doha back on track.
Trade ministers, she said, spent several hours on Thursday discussing how the pro-trade forum can have the best impact on the Doha round, and to ensure new negotiating texts being drawn up at the WTO in Geneva will be ambitious.
"I don't know if the world will take notice, as long as the WTO secretariat takes notice and as long as the negotiating groups take notice," she said.
India is one of 15 nations wanting to join APEC when the 10-year moratorium on new members expires later this year, and APEC leaders will discuss enlarging the forum when they meet for the leaders' summit in Sydney in September.
While Schwab would not comment directly about India's chances of being accepted as an APEC member, she said the forum needed to make sure it included countries that can show leadership and be forward looking on trade.
"It's very hard to make the kind of progress that APEC has made over the years if you have one or more economies that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming along the path, rather than being upfront or forward leaning," she said.