World Focus: Sleep deprivation is small price to pay for a trade deal

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Indy Politics

"It is NOT his intention to exhaust ministers," explained the spokesman for Pascal Lamy, the director general of the World Trade Organisation.

However, all of the 40 trade ministers gathered at the WTO's offices in Geneva this week know Mr Lamy's hobbies are running and cycling. His stamina exceeds that of anyone else negotiating what should be the final stages of the Doha round of trade talks. Mr Lamy will not flinch from pushing deliberations deep into the evening. Dinners may be skipped and beds left undisturbed in the cause of a multilateral trade deal. Mr Lamy believes the chances of some success are "more than 50 per cent". Time is running out: the US elections mean a new administration with new policies and a new envoy; a hugely delaying factor.

There have been many "make or break" moments during the Doha round since it was initiated in the Qatari capital in 2001. Almost every year has seen exhausting sessions aimed at a breakthrough. Negotiators have gone sleepless for three nights out of six and been told to get on with it by their political masters, but they never quite make it.

This time, 30 contentious items occupy the 152 nations in the WTO (the 153rd, Cape Verde, joins tomorrow). Bananas perennially crop up, with EU nations keen to safeguard preferences granted to former Caribbean colonies. Facing them down are the banana growers of Latin America and US business interests.

Products from rum to tobacco face similar wrangles. WTO officials hope for progress on agricultural and industrial goods by Saturday's formal sessions, or later if Mr Lamy judges that extending the talks will bring agreement. That would lend huge momentum and revolutionise the chances of success on services and the whole agenda.

Matters were not helped by Celso Amorim, the Brazilian Foreign Minister, who compared EU and US representatives to Hitler's propaganda minister: "Goebbels used to say if you repeat a lie several times it becomes a truth." Brazil wants the West to buy its biofuels; the EU and US prefer to subsidise their own farmers to grow them. The Common Agricultural Policy remains a roadblock.

The prize for a successful round is a "Global Tax Cut" – a tariff reduction of about $100bn per annum – plus a boost to economic growth as recession threatens. Worth a few late nights.