GENEVA (Kyodo) The chief of the World Trade Organization is urging Japan to show more flexibility in slashing tariffs for agricultural products so it can secure gains from the liberalization of industrial and service trade.
WTO Director General Pascal Lamy, who will be in Tokyo on Wednesday and Thursday, said in an interview with Japanese media that Japan’s economy is “an important player” and has “offensive interest” in the current Doha round of talks, which have fallen into a crisis.
Asked what message he will convey to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during his visit, Lamy said, “(The) message is we need Japan. Given the crisis situation we are in, things are not sort of business as usual.”
He said “existing flexibility in average level is not enough and we need a bit more.” The WTO chief added he will try to convince Koizumi “with big pictures” that Japan “has a big stake” in the WTO negotiations.
Lamy pointed out that WTO members have agreed that “trade-distorting tariffs are too high” and that Japan will have to “slash its tariff down, with some flexibility for some products.”
Even for politically sensitive products, including rice for Japan, their tariffs must be slashed and market access must be provided by an increase in the tariff quota, Lamy said.
The WTO process has been in a critical situation since six key players — the United States, the European Union, Brazil, India, Japan and Australia — failed to break a stalemate during intensive talks last week in Geneva, postponing a possible deal on the outline of a comprehensive accord in farm and industrial areas by one month.
If members cannot strike an accord by the end of July, it will be impossible to achieve the WTO’s goal of bringing the ongoing Doha Round of multilateral market-opening negotiations to a successful conclusion by the end of the year, as agreed earlier.
At the failed meetings, WTO players agreed to ask Lamy to coordinate among the interests of influential economies before the end-of-July deadline.
Lamy said in the interview that for him to act as a catalyst is “risky,” but he added, “Not completing the round is very risky.”
He showed confidence in implementing his task, saying, “If I were convinced that the differences (of the members) are not bridgeable for political reasons, I would not have accepted (the role of mediator).”
The global trade watchdog must complete the round, which also covers services, antidumping rules and support for developing countries, by the yearend deadline in part because special U.S. presidential powers to negotiate on trade will expire July 1. 2007, and Congress appears unlikely to renew them.
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