Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies on Monday declared dead any hope of concluding the stalled Doha round of trade negotiations this year.
“There is now a recognition that the 2011 window of opportunity to complete the round has now closed,” Davies told a media briefing.
“There will be no conclusion to the Doha round in 2011.”
Davies said that while many members of the trade talks, which began a decade ago in the wake of the September 11 attacks, were unwilling to declare it formally over, South Africa felt that it would be pointless to forge ahead without a fundamental change in approach to prioritise the needs of developing nations.
“Saying let’s just work harder and harder and put more muscle into the process is not going to work… We need to accept that the world is perhaps not ready to deliver a development round.”
Davies said the process had been bedevilled by a lack of political will shown by nations in negotiations around so-called “sectorals” in the non-agricultural market.
“The positions on sectorals in the non-agricultural market were unbridgeable…. The issues could not be solved by technical manoeuvring, but were political in nature.”
He said participants in Doha would now move to “Plan B” in the hope of delivering “a much smaller package” by the end of December.
“What is being discussed now is what part of the work programme can be delivered… by the end of the year.”
He said South Africa’s view, and the prevailing view of the membership, was that the talks should focus on seeking relief for the world’s least developed nations.
Some form of duty-free access to the markets of the developed world, a form of aid-for-trade agreement and a resolution of the so-called “cotton dossier”.
The term refers to trade-distorting cotton subsidies provided by rich countries, particularly the United States, that are wreaking havoc in the cotton trade of the West African cotton-producing countries Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad.
Davies said South Africa and fellow developing nations saw the challenge to produce a deal to benefit the poorest countries as a test for the credibility of the World Trade Organisation.
“We would like to test the credibility of the organisation to produce a meaningful package for least developed countries.”
He said that since the talks began in the Qatari capital in 2001, they had lost sight of its original aim as developed nations refused to negotiate themselves out of trade advantages.
“What we have seen over time is the developmental mandate becoming eroded step by step.”
Davies said controversial issues such as industrial tariffs, agriculture and services would not be included in negotiations in search of a deal for developing nations.
South Africa’s status as a fast-developing nation would mean that it would incur obligations, rather than relief, in any package aimed at the poorest of the poor, he said.
“South Africa will be a nett payer rather than a beneficiary.”
He believed the continent as a whole should benefit, even though Africa’s trade prospects were hampered not merely by trade rules, but by “real economy” issues such as a lack of inter-linking roads and other infrastructure.
“We would like to make our contribution in the African framework.”
Asked about the future of Doha, Davies said he believed the analogy that the talks were “in intensive care” were apt, and only time would tell whether participants were going to pull the plug on the life support system.