Time is starting to run out on Doha trade talks

The Prime Minister used his visit to the World Economic Forum yesterday to launch a new initiative he said he hoped would focus the minds of countries around the world on finally getting a deal from the Doha round of world trade talks.

David Cameron warned that time was running out for a deal to be secured from the talks, which first began a decade ago, but that too many countries were still not prepared to make their final bargaining positions clear.

"If we don't get the deal done this year, it is hard to see how the Doha process can have any further credibility," Mr Cameron said. "If we enter 2012 still stuck on this, real leadership will mean a radical rethink of how we get this done."

Privately, negotiators from the World Trade Organisation say that if no deal is done in 2011, talks will drag on at least until 2013, because 2012 is an election year in the US, the most important nation in the talks, and this will prevent it engaging meaningfully.

Mr Cameron is a member of a group of leaders, including Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, pressing for a new push on the talks. The group published a string of recommendations yesterday on how to move forward, following a project lead by Peter Sutherland, the Irish businessman who is now chairman of Goldman Sachs, but who was closely involved in the WTO's Uruguay round of talks in the Nineties.

Mr Sutherland said that it was important to set a deadline for getting the deal done – the group recommended a date before the end of 2011.

The Cameron-led group believes further concessions are necessary from all parties but some negotiators are holding out until the last minute. Mr Sutherland warned: "If this thing fails the whole case for multilateralism in trade becomes more difficult and we'll be back to a world of bilateral agreements and greater protectionism."